Contemporary Chinese Fiction Writers: Biography, Bibliography, and Critical Assessment 9780765617606

In the years since the death of Mao Zedong, interest in Chinese writers and Chinese literature has risen significantly i

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Contemporary Chinese Fiction Writers: Biography, Bibliography, and Critical Assessment

Table of contents :
List of Writers
Preface and Acknowledgments
Contemporary Chinese Fiction Writers A–Z
Chronology of Important Events since 1911
List of Journals and Newspapers
Glossary of Names and Terms

Citation preview

Contemporary Chinese Fiction Writers In the years since the death of Mao Zedong, interest in Chinese writers and Chinese literature has risen significantly in the West. In 2000, Gao Xingjian became the first Chinese writer to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature, followed by Mo Yan in 2012, and writers such as Ha Jin and Da Sijie have also become well known in the West. Despite this progress, the vast majority of Chinese writers remain largely unknown outside China. This book introduces the lives and works of 80 contemporary Chinese writers and focuses on writers from the “Rightist” generation (Lu Wentu, Wang Meng, Zhang Xianliang), writers of the Red Guard generation (Han Shaogong, Liang Xiaosheng, Zhang Chengzhi), and post-Cultural Revolution writers, as well as others. Unlike earlier works, it provides detailed, often first-hand biographical information on this wide range of writers, including their career trajectories, major themes, and artistic characteristics. Each entry includes a critical presentation and evaluation of the writer’s major works, and those translated into English. There is also a selected bibliography of publications that includes works in Chinese and books available in English. Offering a valuable contribution to the field of contemporary Chinese literature, by making detailed information about Chinese writers more accessible, this book will be of interest to students and scholars of Chinese literature, contemporary literature, and Chinese studies. Laifong Leung taught Chinese literature, language, and calligraphy at the University of Alberta, Canada.

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Contemporary Chinese Fiction Writers Biography, Bibliography, and Critical Assessment

Laifong Leung

First published 2017 by Routledge 711 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017 and by Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business © 2017 Taylor & Francis The right of Laifong Leungto be identified as author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers. Trademark notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks or registered trademarks, and are used only for identification and explanation without intent to infringe. British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data Names: Leung, Laifong, 1948– author. Title: Contemporary Chinese fiction writers : biography, bibliography, and critical assessment / Laifong Leung. Description: Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon ; New York : Routledge, 2016. | Includes bibliographical references and index. Identifiers: LCCN 2015049688| ISBN 9780765617606 (hardback) | ISBN 9781315719504 (ebook) Subjects: LCSH: Authors, Chinese—Biography—Dictionaries. | Chinese fiction—20th century—Bio-bibliography. Classification: LCC PL2442 .L38 2016 | DDC 895.13/509—dc23 LC record available at ISBN: 978-0-7656-1760-6 (hbk) ISBN: 978-1-315-71950-4 (ebk) Typeset in Sabon and Frutiger by Florence Production Ltd, Stoodleigh, Devon, UK


THE LATE PROFESSOR MICHAEL FUTRELL, who urged me to write this book

PROFESSOR ANDREW PARKIN, who gave me confidence

MY LATE FATHER, SHEK JIM LEUNG, who helped me in his own way

MY BROTHER, RON LEUNG, who supported me throughout

MY HUSBAND, RANDY LOUIS, who stood by me all the way along

MY SON RICHARD LOUIS, who patiently waited for me to complete the book

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List of Writers ix Preface and Acknowledgments xiv Introduction 1

Contemporary Chinese Fiction Writers A–Z 9 Chronology of Important Events since 1911 347 List of Journals and Newspapers 350 Glossary of Names and Terms 353 Bibliography 361 Index 371

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Chi Zijian (f) Writer from North Pole Village

Ah Cheng (m)

Cong Weixi (m)

“King of Chess”

Gulag Survivor

Alai (m):

Dai Houying (f)

Half Hui and Half Tibetan

From Fervent Red Guard to Critic of Mao

Bai Hua (m)

Deng Youmei (m)

Braving through Political Campaigns

Re-imaging Old Beijing

Bei Cun (m)

Fang Fang (f)

A Christian Writer

Constructing the “Landscape” of Wuhan

Bi Feiyu (m)

Feng Jicai (m)

Portraying Women and Blind People

Rescuing Human Nature and Folk Culture

Can Xue (f)

Gao Xiaosheng (m)

Probing the Subconscious and the Grotesque

Writing Satire and Fantasy

Chen Cun (m)

Gao Xingjian (m)

Subverting the Grand Narrative

Chen Jiangong (m)

Nobel Prize Winner, Novelist, and Playwright

From the Coal Mine to the Beijing Alleys

Ge Fei (m)

Chen Ran (f)

A Member of the Literati with Avant-Garde Characteristics

A Sensitive Feminist

Chen Zhongshi (m)

Han Shaogong (m)

Constructing the White Deer Plain

Rustication and Root-Searching

Cheng Naishan (f)

He Liwei (m)

Nostalgia for Old Shanghai

Innovator of Narrative Language

Chi Li (f)

Jia Pingwa (m)

Capturing the Rhythm of the City

A Member of the Peasant Literati in Xi’an


Jiang Rong (m)

Lu Xing’er (f)

Playing with Wolves

Promoting Women’s Self-empowerment

Jiang Zilong (m)

Lu Xinhua (m)

Forerunner of Reform Literature

Father of Scar Literature

Kong Jiesheng (m)

Lu Yao (m)

From Canton to Washington, DC

Caught between Rural and Urban

Lao Gui (m)

Ma Yuan (m)

A Rebel

Creator of Labyrinths

Li Hangyu (m)

Mai Jia (m)

Searching Roots in Folk Culture

Pioneer of Spy Fiction

Li Rui (m)

Mo Yan (m)

Digging the Deep Earth

Nobel Prize Winner from the Land of Red Sorghum

Liang Xiaosheng (m) An Idealist from Harbin

Qiu Huadong (m)

Lin Bai (f)

A City “Intruder”

A Feminist Wanderer from Guangxi

Shen Rong (f)

Lin Jinlan (m)

From Propaganda to Satire

A Wise Man Knowing the Art of Emptiness

Shi Tiesheng (m)

Liu Cixin (m)

Not Confined to a Wheelchair

A Star in Chinese Science Fiction

Su Tong (m)

Liu Heng (m)

An Energetic Storyteller from Suzhou

From Fiction to Film to Drama

Tashi Dawa (m)

Liu Qingbang (m)

Writing Tibet and Its Soul

King of Short Fiction

Tie Ning (f)

Liu Shaotang (m)

A Versatile Writer of the Rural and the Urban

Preserving Tales Along the Grand Canal

Liu Xinglong (m)

Wang Anyi (f)

A Humanist from Small Town

Flexible and Prolific Writer from Shanghai

Liu Xinwu (m)

Wang Meng (m)

Pioneer of Scar Literature

Forever a Young Man

Liu Zhenyun (m)

Wang Shuo (m)

Piercing through Officialdom and History

Not Only a “Hooligan Writer”

Lu Tianming (m)

Wang Zengqi (m)

Fearless Writer of Anti-corruption Fiction

Merging with Nature and the Void

Lu Wenfu (m)

Xu Kun (f)

Connoisseur of Suzhou

Between Beijing and Shenyang


Xu Xiaobin (f)

Zhou Daxin (m)

Not Just a Feminist Writer

Escaping from the Plateau

Yan Lianke (m)

Zhu Lin (f)

An Exuberant Peasant-soldier Writer

Giving Voice to Women and the Juvenile

Yang Xianhui (m)

Zhu Xiaoping (m)

Chronicling the Gulag and the Famine

An Outsider in Mulberry Tree Village

Ye Guangqin (f)

Zong Pu (f)

A Manchu Princess

A Woman Literati Member and Modernist

Ye Xin (m) Writing Rustication and Shanghai

Yu Hua (m) Obsessed with Paranoia, Violence, and Suffering

Zhang Chengzhi (m) Red Guard and Muslim

Zhang Jie (f) An Angry Feminist

Zhang Kangkang (f) A Trendsetter and More

Zhang Ping (m) A Fierce Critic of Corruption

Zhang Wei (m) A Member of the Literati from Shandong

Zhang Xian (m) Sympathizer with Women’s Plight

Zhang Xianliang (m) Prominent Writer of the Chinese Gulag

Zhang Xin (f)

WRITERS ARRANGED IN CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER BY YEAR OF BIRTH Wang Zengqi (1920–1998; m) Merging with Nature and the Void

Lin Jinlan (1923–2009; m) A Wise Man Knowing the Art of Emptiness

Gao Xiaosheng (1928–1999; m) Writing Satire and Fantasy

Lu Wenfu (1928–2005; m) Connoisseur of Suzhou

Zong Pu (b. 1928; f) A Woman Literati Member and Modernist

Bai Hua (b. 1930; m) Braving through Political Campaigns

Deng Youmei (b. 1931; m) Re-imaging Old Beijing

Cong Weixi (b. 1933; m) Gulag Survivor

Portraying Women Entrepreneurs in Canton

Wang Meng (b. 1934; m) Forever a Young Man

Zhang Xinxin (f)

Zhang Xian (1934–1997; m)

Restless Woman on the Road

Sympathizer with Women’s Plight

Zheng Wanlong (m)

Liu Shaotang (1936–1997; m)

Seeking Roots in Gold Mines and Minorities

Preserving Tales Along the Grand Canal

Zheng Yi (m)

Shen Rong (b. 1936; f)

A Flexible Rebel and Thinker

From Propaganda to Satire


Zhang Xianliang (1936–2014; m)

Chen Jiangong (b. 1949; m)

Prominent Writer of the Chinese Gulag

From the Coal Mine to the Beijing Alleys

Zhang Jie (b. 1937; f)

Li Rui (b. 1949; m)

An Angry Feminist

Digging the Deep Earth

Dai Houying (1938–1996; f)

Liang Xiaosheng (b. 1949; m)

From Fervent Red Guard to Critic of Mao

An Idealist from Harbin

Gao Xingjian (b. 1940; m)

Lu Xing’er (1949–2004; f)

Nobel Prize Winner, Novelist, and Playwright

Promoting Women’s Self-empowerment

Jiang Zilong (b. 1941; m)

Lu Yao (1949–1992; m)

Forerunner of Reform Literature

Caught between Rural and Urban

Chen Zhongshi (b. 1942–2016; m)

Ye Xin (b. 1949; m)

Constructing the White Deer Plain

Writing Rustication and Shanghai

Feng Jicai (b. 1942; m)

Zhu Lin (b. 1949; f)

Rescuing Human Nature and Folk Culture

Giving Voice to Women and the Juvenile

Liu Xinwu (b. 1942; m)

Zhang Kangkang (b. 1950; f)

Pioneer of Scar Literature

A Trendsetter and More

Lu Tianming (b. 1944; m)

Liu Qingbang (b. 1951; m)

Fearless Writer of Anti-corruption Fiction

King of Short Fiction

Zheng Wanlong (b. 1944; m)

Jia Pingwa (b. 1952; m)

Seeking Roots in Gold Mines and Minorities

A Member of the Peasant Literati in Xi’an

Cheng Naishan (1946–2013; f)

Kong Jiesheng (b. 1952; m)

Nostalgia for Old Shanghai

From Canton to Washington, DC

Jiang Rong (b. 1946; m)

Zhou Daxin (b. 1952; m)

Playing with Wolves

Escaping from the Plateau

Yang Xianhui (b. 1946; m)

Zhu Xiaoping (b. 1952; m)

Chronicling the Gulag and Famine

An Outsider in Mulberry Tree Village

Lao Gui (b. 1947; m)

Can Xue (b. 1953; f)

A Rebel

Probing the Subconscious and the Grotesque

Zheng Yi (b. 1947; m)

Han Shaogong (b. 1953; m)

A Flexible Rebel and Thinker

Rustication and Root-Searching

Ah Cheng (b. 1948; m)

Ma Yuan (b. 1953; m)

“King of Chess”

Creator of Labyrinths

Ye Guangqin (b. 1948; f)

Shi Tiesheng (1953–2010; m)

A Manchu Princess

Not Confined to a Wheelchair

Zhang Chengzhi (b. 1948; m)

Xu Xiaobin (b. 1953; f)

Red Guard and Muslim

Not Just a Feminist Writer


Zhang Xinxin (b. 1953; f)

Liu Zhenyun (b. 1958; m)

Restless Woman on the Road

Piercing through Officialdom and History

Chen Cun (b. 1954; m)

Wang Shuo (b. 1958; m)

Subverting the Grand Narrative

Not Only a “Hooligan Writer”

He Liwei (b. 1954; m)

Yan Lianke (b. 1958; m)

Innovator of Narrative Language

An Exuberant Peasant-soldier Writer

Liu Heng (b. 1954; m)

Alai (b. 1959; m)

From Fiction to Film to Drama

Half Hui and Half Tibetan

Lu Xinhua (b. 1954; m)

Tashi Dawa (b. 1959; m)

Father of Scar Literature

Writing Tibet and Its Soul

Wang Anyi (b. 1954; f)

Yu Hua (b. 1961; m)

Flexible and Prolific Writer from Shanghai

Obsessed with Paranoia, Violence, and Suffering

Zhang Ping (b. 1954; m) A Fierce Critic of Corruption

Zhang Wei (b. 1954; m) A Member of the Literati from Shandong

Zhang Xin (b. 1954; f) Portraying Women Entrepreneurs in Canton

Fang Fang (b. 1955; f) Constructing the “Landscape” of Wuhan

Liu Xinglong (b. 1956; m) A Humanist from Small Town

Mo Yan (b. 1956; m) Nobel Prize Winner from the Land of Red Sorghum

Chi Li (b. 1957; f) Capturing the Rhythm of the City

Li Hangyu (b. 1957; m) Searching Roots in Folk Culture

Tie Ning (b. 1957; f)

Chen Ran (b. 1962; f) A Sensitive Feminist

Liu Cixin (b. 1963; m) A Star in Chinese Science Fiction

Su Tong (b. 1963; m) An Energetic Storyteller from Suzhou

Bi Feiyu (b. 1964; m) Portraying Women and Blind People

Chi Zijian (b. 1964; f) Writer from North Pole Village

Ge Fei (b. 1964; m) A Member of the Literati with Avant-Garde Characteristics

Mai Jia (b. 1964; m) Pioneer of Spy Fiction

Bei Cun (b. 1965; m) A Christian Writer

Xu Kun (b. 1965; f)

A Versatile Writer of the Rural and the Urban

Between Beijing and Shenyang

Lin Bai (b. 1958; f)

Qiu Huadong (b. 1969; m)

A Feminist Wanderer from Guangxi

A City “Intruder”

Preface and Acknowledgments My interest in contemporary Chinese literature began after I joined a group of 18 students from Vancouver to make a seven-week tour of China in summer 1976. In late 1978, I came across some literary magazines in Chinatown publishing an entirely different kind of story than I had read before, which was known as Scar Literature. I started subscribing to the magazines and reading stories pouring out of China. Little did I know that this hobby would later become my long-term academic interest. The Chinese literary scene has been very vibrant since the early 1980s, as evidenced by the emergence of a large number of writers and their works, journals, literary prizes, and writers’ training programs. Yet, for obvious reasons, Chinese writers are largely unknown outside the country. With Gao Xingjian winning the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2000, and Mo Yan winning in 2012, the need to counteract this seemed to be on the rise. This book will introduce to English readers 80 contemporary Chinese writers who emerged or re-emerged after Mao’s death (1976) and have been active on the Chinese literary scene since. Instead of just giving a brief description of each writer, I have attempted to construct the trajectories of their life and work, highlighting the major characteristics and themes, and judging them against the development of 20th-century Chinese literature. I hope this will give readers a deeper impression of the writers. Though this approach involved a great deal of reading, the process was very fruitful. The idea of writing a book that would introduce contemporary Chinese writers and their works to English speakers began in 1985 when I started teaching courses on post-Mao literature at the University of Alberta. In 1994, my book Morning Sun: Interviews with Chinese Writers of the Lost Generation (M.E. Sharpe), which includes 26 accomplished writers from the Maoist generation, was my first attempt in that direction. Owing to my teaching and administrative commitments, I could not devote my energy fully to this project until I took early retirement from the University of Alberta in 2008. In the process of writing this book, I was again distracted by an urgent task to contribute to and edit the book Zhongjia wenxue jiaoliu shi (History of Literary Interactions between China and Canada, 2015), so that Canada could be included in the 17-volume project. After completing that task, I resumed work on this book until its completion in winter 2015. Thanks to the research grants from the Arts Faculty in the University of Alberta and the SSRHC grants during my tenure at the university, I was able to make research trips to China during my tenure and hire student assistants. I wish to thank Feng Junli, Zhang Yin and Liu Xinhui for their assistance. I also benefited from the encouragement of my former colleagues at the University of Alberta, particularly the late Karl Kao, Richard John Lynn and Jack Jennshann Lin. My visit to the Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing in 1986 with the Bilateral Exchange Program between China and Canada opened doors to Chinese literary circles for me. I have benefited greatly from the help of many scholars, critics, and writers. The late Mr Xu Juemin, director of the Institute of Chinese Modern and Contemporary Literature in the Academy of Social Sciences, introduced me to many writers and critics; the late Mr Gan Cui, section chief of the material room at the Academy,


helped me locate articles otherwise impossible to find before the Internet age; Mr Bai Ye, an expert in contemporary Chinese literature continuously updated me with his annual publication of the Zhongguo wenqing baogao (Annual Report on Chinese Literature) and generously gave me his set of Chinese Literature Almanacs; Mr Chen Juntao, critic and editor, was always available for consultation. Mr He Zhenbang, teacher and mentor of numerous writers at the Lu Xun Literary Institute, has given me very good advice. Many critics have, in various ways, offered me intellectual stimulation: Meng Fanhua, Zhang Zhizhong, He Shaojun, Bi Guangming, Fan Xing, and many others. Chen Jiangong, writer and former head of the Modern Chinese Literature Museum, has given me generous help in the process. I am indebted to many writers who provided me with information on their life and work when I asked for them. My interactions with them over the years have remained a valuable part of my life. A few writers have passed away. I will always remember a dumpling dinner with Liu Shaotang in his Beijing home, just a month before he had a stroke; my visit to Lin Jinlan’s residence a few months before he passed away; a walk along the Bund with Lu Xing’er, a year before her untimely death; the afternoon tea with Cheng Naishan in Shanghai, two years before she died; and the visits to the late Shi Tiesheng’s place by the Lama Temple. For many years, I made use of opportunities such as conferences, research trips, and student study programs in China to interact with Chinese writers such as Chi Zijian in Harbin; Chen Zhongshi and Ye Guangqin in Xi’an; Chi Li and Fang Fang in Wuhan; Jiang Zilong in Tianjin; Li Hangyu in Hangzhou; Lu Xing’er, Wang Anyi, Ye Xin, and Zhu Lin in Shanghai; Zhang Wei in Ji’nan; and Liu Heng, Mo Yan, Zhang Kangkang, Jiang Rong, Xu Kun, Xu Xiaobin, Yan Lianke, Zhou Daxin, and many more in Beijing. As co-founder of the Chinese Canadian Writers’ Association (1987), I have had the opportunity to meet Chinese writers during their visits to Canada, such as Ge Fei, Liu Zhenyun, Liu Qingbang, and Wang Meng. Knowing the writers personally allows me to get a glimpse of their temperament. What they told me about themselves and their work constitutes valuable first-hand material for understanding their work. After following their writing for many years, in writing the entries, I have been able to trace a trajectory of their writing career, highlight the significant works and major characteristics, and place them in the historical context of 20th-century Chinese literature, instead of just mentioning one or two representative works, as seen in existing books on the topic. Throughout the years, I have benefited from the books of many sinologists; just to name a few: Professors Michael Duke, Perry Link, Geremie Barmé, Jeffry Kinkley, Howard Goldblatt, David Derwei Wang, Michael Hochx, the late Helmet Martin, and many more. I am also deeply grateful to my dear old friend, the late Professor Michael Futrell, expert in Russian and Soviet literature, who gave me so much intellectual inspiration. Not satisfied with what I told him about Chinese literature, he urged me to write this book. Professor Andrew Parkin, former Head of the English Department at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and a poet and novelist in his own right, was generous with his time and knowledge. I am very grateful to his critical reading of many entries in this book. The opinions of both these professors were valuable, as this book was written for non-experts also. I am thankful to fellow writers in the Thursdays Writing Collective of Vancouver East: Kevin Spenst, Joan Flood, and Elee Gardiner, for being my first readers. I have also benefited from the editorial suggestions of poet Joanne Arnott of the Writers’ Studio at Simon Fraser University and the Carnegie Center. Professors Jan Walls and Yvonne Walls gave me encouragement throughout. My alumnus friend Howard Chu, whom I had not seen for decades since our days at the University of British Columbia, suddenly showed up with a generous check when he heard that I had taken early retirement to write this book. I thank him with all my heart. His support allowed me to employ two more students, Xiang Ran and Vanessa Jan, in the later stages of the project. I am also indebted to the Asian Library at the University of British Columbia for its large collection. My heartfelt gratitude goes to my friend Mrs Françoise Lentsch, an expert in indexing, who generously offered to help me with the meticulous work. My late father, Mr Shek Jim Leung, was supportive of my research. Before the arrival of the Internet, it was a big job just to track down the vast number of publications by the writers. My father came to my rescue. He treated writing the bibliography cards as practicing Chinese calligraphy. The result was boxes and boxes of cards for my use. He could hardly have known that these cards would have many functions: to form the trajectories of the writers’ works and to provide the original sources of the works. He indeed helped me realize my scholarly practice. Translators, students,


scholars, and interested readers can use them to locate the sources. My engineer brother, Ron Leung, read most of the entries and asked questions that made me clarify the meaning. My husband, Randy Louis, and my son, Richard, have been part of this process throughout the years. Words cannot express my gratitude to them. I wish to thank the journal Chinese Literature Today of Oklahoma University for permission to reuse the article “Yan Lianke: A Writer’s Moral Duty” (Winter/Spring, 2011). I would like to thank George Warburton, Project Manager at Florence Production Ltd, for his careful editing. Last but not least, I am grateful to Rebecca Lawrence of Routledge for all her expert help throughout the production process.

Notes about Spelling and Arrangement 1.

2. 3.

With a few exceptions, such as Chiang Kaishek and Kuomingtang (KMT), all the Chinese place names and people’s names are given in Pinyin. Because of the large number of homonyms in Chinese, for clarity, Chinese characters are provided when the Pinyin names first appear. Also, when the writers are mentioned, their names are given in full, surname first and then personal name. For scholarly purposes, the author has tried to give the original source when a piece of work is mentioned. Otherwise, the source will be given in the notes. In the list of writers, the writers are arranged first alphabetically and then by age. This layout is necessary because the lives of these Chinese writers and their works have been variously affected by the nation’s tumultuous history and excessive political campaigns. Readers may find some similarities among those from the same generation. Readers may also read according to gender, which is marked by “m” (male) or “f” (female) after the name.

Introduction The international profile of contemporary Chinese literature rose significantly with Gao Xingjian (高行健; b. 1940) and Mo Yan (莫言; b. 1956) winning the Nobel Prize in Literature in the years 2000 and 2012, respectively. In the West, however, the achievements of most contemporary Chinese writers have remained largely unknown. People outside China only come to know a handful of these writers, primarily through such occasional international prizes and film adaptations. Even scholars and students in the field might find it difficult to identify them or find biographical and critical information. As a scholar and teacher in contemporary Chinese literature, I feel strongly that it is my obligation to make a contribution to this field of study and make information about Chinese writers more accessible to academics, students, and interested readers beyond the borders of China.1 This book introduces the lives and works of 80 significant contemporary Chinese fiction writers who emerged or re-emerged after Mao’s death (1976). My choice of fiction writers is based on the fact that fiction in the form of short stories, novellas, and novels is the most suitable literary genre for a wide range of contents and stylistic experimentation. As in all communist countries, literature was viewed and used as a political tool. In China, this utilitarianism of literature can be traced to Lenin’s 1905 speech, “Party Literature and Party Organization,” and later, more directly, to Mao’s Talks in Yan’an on Literature and Art (Zai Yan’an wenyi zuotan hui shang de jianghua, 在延安文艺座谈会上的讲话, 1942, hereafter referred to as Yan’an Talks). The word “contemporary” thus needs reconsideration. Although many literary historians treat 1949, the founding year of the People’s Republic of China, as the beginning of contemporary Chinese literature, in fact, it began as early as 1942 in the districts ruled by the Chinese Communist Party (hereafter, CCP). Mao’s Yan’an Talks set up the policy that “literature and art serve politics.” Any deviation could result in punishment, in the form of exile, labor reform, imprisonment, or death. After 1949, the CCP launched a series of campaigns to consolidate party leadership in the cultural sector. For instance, the film The Biography of Wu Xun (Wu Xun Zhuan, 武训传, 1951) was attacked for its promotion of bourgeois reformism, theoretician Hu Feng (胡风, 1902–1986) for his “subjective realism” (1953), veteran writer Ding Ling (丁玲, 1904–1986) for her “petty-bourgeois” idea of “one-book-ism” (writing for fame instead of for the masses, 1954), and academic scholar Yu Pingbo (俞平伯, 1900–1990) for his biographical approach (influenced by Hu Shi’s 胡适 [1891–1962] Western method of scholarship, 1955) to the study of Dream of the Red Chamber. In 1956, in view of the Hungarian Uprising and Khrushchev’s speech attacking Stalin, the CCP launched the Hundred Flowers Campaign in which people were encouraged to speak up. However, in response to the widespread criticism, Mao launched the Anti-Rightist Campaign in 1957 in order to, according to the party rhetoric, “entice the snakes out of the caves.” Hundreds of thousands were condemned. Many writers were labeled as Rightists and sent to exile, labor reform, or prison. They were silenced, and most were not rehabilitated until 1979. After the Anti-Rightist Campaign, Chinese writers in general were reluctant to write. A brief period of relaxation came in 1961, when Premier Zhou Enlai (周恩来, 1898–1976) gave a speech to intellectuals promising some freedom and partially rehabilitating some Rightists. However, this relaxation proved to be very brief because, in 1963, a new campaign condemning the notion of “writing


middle characters” (xie zhongjian renwu, 写中间人物, that is, characters that are neither perfect heroes nor villains, but are capable of change) was launched. After the Cultural Revolution broke out in 1966, Chinese literary production was reduced to a small number of propagandistic works. Eight Model Revolutionary Plays were performed throughout the nation. Drama and novel writing had to follow the dictates of “Three Prominences” (san tuchu, 三突出), which requires positive characters to be made prominent among all characters, positive heroes to be made prominent among all positive characters, and the principal hero to be made prominent among all positive heroes. From 1966 to 1976, all the literary organizations were shut down, and most writers were either exiled, sent to labor camps, imprisoned, or killed. Real literature ceased to exist. After Mao’s death (September 9, 1976) and the subsequent arrest of the “Gang of Four” (Zhang Chunqiao, 张春桥, Yao Wenyuan, 姚文元, Wang Hongwen 王洪文, and Jiang Qing, 江青) in the following month, the extreme policies of the Cultural Revolution began to be refuted. After a transitional period, since 1979, under the more pragmatic new leadership of Deng Xiaoping, Chinese writers who had endured Mao’s disastrous, destructive sociopolitical campaigns were finally able to vent their longsuppressed opinions and emotions, unleashing their creative energy like the eruption of a dormant volcano. New writers emerged. The magnitude and momentum generated were unprecedented in Chinese literary history. Large numbers of literary journals resumed publication, and many new ones appeared at the national, provincial, and city levels. Many foreign works were translated and published. New literary trends appeared one after another: Scar Literature, which deals with the harm caused by the Cultural Revolution; Reflective Literature, which reveals the human disasters caused by the extreme politics under the CCP; Reform Literature, which uncovers the problems of modernization such as in state-run enterprises; Root-Searching Literature, which explores the positive or negative aspects of Chinese cultural heritage, folk culture, and mysticism; Avant-garde Literature, which experiments with modernist concepts and techniques; New Realism, which stresses ordinary people’s everyday life; Feminist Fiction, which focuses on the plight of women; New Historical fiction, which deconstructs traditional and communist orthodox history; New Rural fiction, which deals with the new situations in rural villages after the collapse of the People’s Commune System; Anti-corruption fiction, which exposes official corruption; and many more. In the 21st century, Workers’ Literature is emerging in coastal cities, with writers who are migrant workers. Spy Fiction and science Fiction became very popular. These trends attracted many practitioners, generating tremendous vigor and diversity. Since the early 1980s, Chinese writers have consciously subverted the orthodox communist literary dogmas and socialist realism and turned to seek new ways of expression. The influx of translated works by James Joyce, Franz Kafka, William Faulkner, Jorge Luis Borges, and Gabriel García Márquez particularly have influenced their writing, such as, notably, Wang Meng’s adaptation of “stream of consciousness” and Ma Yuan’s 马原 (b. 1953) use of labyrinth structure. Chinese writers do not completely abandon their literary tradition. In fact, they are mostly familiar with the classical Chinese novels and draw inspiration from famous works such as Strange Tales from the Chinese Studio (Liuzhai zhiyi, 聊斋志异). In fact, they have synthesized the foreign and the native in the creative process. For instance, Mo Yan (b. 1956) makes use of magic realism in his Red Sorghum (Honggaoliang, 红高粱, 1988), but he also employs couplets as chapter titles in Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out (Shengsi pilao, 生死疲劳, 2006), a form taken from classical vernacular fiction. Lin Jinlan (林斤谰, 1920–2009) borrows the aesthetics of “emptiness” in Chinese painting in the construction of his short stories. Feng Jicai (冯骥才, b. 1942), Liu Qingbang (刘庆邦, b. 1951), and Tie Ning (铁凝, b. 1957) make effective use of the idea of “poetic eye” (shiyan, 诗眼) as a key motif in their short fiction. At the practical level, until only recently, most Chinese professional writers belonged to one of two governing organizations: the Union of Chinese Writers and Artists (abbreviated as Wenlian, 文联) and the Chinese Writers’ Association (abbreviated as Zuoxie, 作协). Both of them have branches in the municipalities (for instance, Beijing and Shanghai) and at provincial and city levels. During the Maoist period, they were in charge of keeping writers in line politically and providing for their practical needs. One important task has been to train and nurture young writers. As early as January 1951, a writers’ training organization called Central Literature Institute, 中央文学研究所, was founded to train young writers recruited from across the country, particularly those from worker–peasant–soldier backgrounds. In 1954, it was listed under the Chinese Writers’ Association and renamed the Literature Training


Institute, 文学讲习所. This organization was shut down during the Cultural Revolution and reopened in 1979. It was then renamed the Lu Xun Literary Institute (Lu Xun wenxueyuan, 鲁迅文学院). Writers were recommended to receive training while being paid by their original work units. In the late 1980s, to elevate the education standard of the writers, the Lu Xun Literary Institute collaborated with Beijing Normal University to jointly offer a graduate program in creative writing. Mo Yan, for instance, received a Master’s degree from this program. Writers who have attained professional status would receive a basic salary from their respective writers’ association and get to keep the royalties from their own publications. Beginning in the 1990s, with the development of a market economy and the mass media, Chinese writers began to pay more attention to the taste of the readers than of the leadership. Since the 1990s, as state support for professional writers has declined, many writers have become profitably involved in the media, either as TV or film scriptwriters, for their own works or for others’. The first to become a scriptwriter was Zhang Xian (张弦, 1934–1997), who wrote the film script for his story “The Corner Forsaken by Love” (Bei aiqing yiwang de jiaoluo, 被爱情遗忘的角落, 1979). Those who came after him and became high-paid scriptwriters include Liu Heng (刘恒, b. 1954) and Liu Zhenyun (刘震云, b. 1958). Zhang Xin (张欣, b. 1954), Fang Fang (方方, b. 1955), and Chi Li (池莉, b. 1957) also have had their stories turned into television series or films. In retrospect, after Mao’s death, the Chinese cultural renaissance, in which literature plays an important role, was manifested in three phenomena: first, the emergence of a large number of writers from diverse backgrounds; second, the tremendous output and wide range of subject matter; and third, multifarious narrative techniques. In the past 30 or more years, Chinese writers have achieved a great deal and have, in many ways, surpassed the output of the first three-quarters of the 20th century. I have chosen writers for this book according to several criteria (see below). The emphasis is on writers who have enriched, defined, and helped shape/reshape the direction of contemporary Chinese literature. That is, writers who have contributed significantly to the construction of the field. Some writers were chosen for more than one criterion. Owing to the restraints of space and time, I have had no choice but to leave out many deserving writers for the time being. In addition, a number of impressive young writers will have to be put aside for future studies. These are the criteria: 1.




They have played a historically significant role: for instance, Liu Xinwu (刘心武, b. 1942), who published “The Class Teacher” (Banzhuren, 班主任, 1977), the first story critical of the dogmatism in education during the Cultural Revolution; and Lu Xinhua (卢新华, b. 1954), whose story “The Scar” (Shanghen, 伤痕, 1978) gave the name to the literary trend. They are conspicuously innovative in style: for instance, Wang Meng’s (王蒙, b. 1934) first experimentation with “stream-of-consciousness”; Can Xue’s (残雪, b. 1953) subversive narration; Ma Yuan’s (b. 1953) use of narrative labyrinth; and He Liwei’s (何立伟, b. 1954) invigoration of the Chinese literary language. Their works have aroused controversy: for instance, Bai Hua (b. 1930), whose film script “Bitter Love” (Kulian, 苦恋, 1979) was the first work to be attacked nationwide in the post-Mao literary scene; and Dai Houying’s (戴厚英, 1938–1996) novel Stones of the Wall (Ren a, ren, 人啊!人, 1980), which stirred up nationwide discussion on humanism. They have broadened the scope of subject matter and theme: for instance, Cong Weixi’s (b. 1933) and Zhang Xianliang’s (张贤亮, 1936–2014) gulag fiction; Lu Tianming’s (陆天明, b. 1946) anticorruption novels; Liang Xiaosheng’s (梁晓声, b. 1949) fiction on rustication; Ye Guangqin’s (叶广芩, b. 1948) novels about Manchu royal families; Mo Yan’s (b. 1956) and Yan Lianke’s (b. 1958) regional fiction set in their hometowns; Tashi Dawa’s (扎西达娃, b. 1959) and Alai’s (阿来, b. 1959) Tibetan stories; Liu Cixin’s (刘慈欣, b. 1963) science fiction; Mai Jia’s (麦家, b. 1964) spy fiction; and Chen Ran’s (陈染, b. 1962) and Lin Bai’s (林白, b. 1958) “private” feminist stories. This category of writer makes up the largest number in the book.

Writers who are from Taiwan and Hong Kong, as well as overseas writers originally from China who write in another language, or have become known in China while living abroad, are not included: for instance, Bai Xianyong (白先勇, b. 1937), Ha Jin (哈金, b. 1956), Yan Geling (严歌苓, b. 1957), and Hong Ying (虹影, b. 1962). Their literary achievements should be dealt with in a separate project.


However, writers who were already well known and had made their impact on contemporary Chinese literature before their exile are not excluded, such as Nobel Prize winner Gao Xingjian (高行健, b. 1940), Zheng Yi (郑义, b. 1947), and Kong Jiesheng (孔捷生, b. 1952). Internet writers are not included.2 In the following, I attempt to give a general overview of these writers in several groups according to their respective backgrounds and experiences in the context of China’s recent history. This is based on the fact that, in China, politics has impacted the lives of its people so profoundly that writers tend to share their fortune, or mostly likely misfortune, which appears variously in their writing. This explains why it is not possible to totally detach their lives from their works, particularly for writers affected by Mao and his rule. (For younger generations born after the 1980s, it might be a different story.) One should keep in mind that every writer is unique in his or her own way. One should also keep in mind that Chinese writers can be viewed from a variety of perspectives, such as region, gender, education, and many combinations of content and style.

Victims of the Hundred Flowers Campaign: Bear witness to the Gulag and suffering The first group of writers included in this book were born in the 1920s and 1930s. During their growing-up years, they experienced World War II and the Civil War. For instance, Wang Zengqi (汪曾祺, b. 1920) and Zong Pu (宗璞, b. 1928) fled from the coastal cities to Kunming, Yunnan Province. Wang Zengqi attended the National Southwestern Union University, and Zong Pu, with her mother and siblings, traveled to be reunited with her father, the philosopher professor Feng Youlan (冯友兰, 1895–1990). Their war experiences later became valuable sources for their writing. There were writers who worked for the underground communists: for instance, Deng Youmei (邓友梅, b. 1931) was a messenger for the New Fourth Route Army and was sent to do hard labor by the Japanese until the end of the war. This horrific experience later appeared in a number of his works. Wang Meng (王蒙) was a young Bolshevik and became a cadre in the Communist Youth League. There were the young newspaper reporters Bai Hua (白桦, b. 1930) and Lu Wenfu (陆文夫, 1928–2005), and enthusiastic literary youths such as Gao Xiaosheng (高晓声, 1928–1999), Cong Weixi (从维熙, b. 1933), Liu Shaotang (刘绍棠, 1936–1997), Zhang Xian, and Zhang Xianliang. During the Hundred Flowers Campaign in 1956, they were encouraged to express their views, but all were persecuted in the 1957 Anti-Rightist Campaign. It was not until 1979 that they re-emerged on the literary scene. Drawing on their painful experiences, former Rightist writers wrote many significant works in contemporary Chinese literature, such as the gulag chronicles.

The In-Between Writers: Starting anew without Mao The second group of writers were born in the late 1930s and early 1940s. They were too young to get caught in the Anti-Rightist Campaign in 1957 and too old to be Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution. They began publishing in the early 1960s in the aftermath of the Great Leap Forward disaster. Because of heavy censorship, these writers could only produce works following the prevailing party line. Only after the death of Mao were they able to write more honestly. Liu Xinwu published a number of stories in the 1960s and early 1970s following the party line, until he could not bear it any longer and took advantage of the first sign of relaxation to publish his landmark story “The Class Teacher” (Banzhuren, 1977), which made him the first writer to criticize the Cultural Revolution. Later, Liu Xinwu boldly acknowledged that his early works were “childish” and “embarrassing” (p. 149).3 Zheng Wanlong, in an interview, confessed that: What I wrote during the Cultural Revolution was not literature at all. But at that time, there was no other way. There could be only that kind of work in that era. It was the tragedy of the era, and of myself. (p. 253)4


Many writers in this group managed to attend college. For instance, Shen Rong (谌容, b. 1936) learned Russian in college and became a teacher of the language. Her experience with intellectuals became the source for her fiction. Zhang Jie (张洁, b. 1937) gained a degree in economics, which gave her the qualifications to write about the inner workings of state enterprise and reform. A writer who gained tremendously from a college education is Gao Xingjian, the 2000 Nobel Laureate in Literature. He learned French in college. His linguistic ability allowed him to keep abreast of Western literature, and he emerged as a forerunner of the Chinese avant-garde movement.

The Lost Generation: From Red Guard to sent-down youths to writer The third group of writers encompasses those born between the late 1940s and the late 1950s. They were indoctrinated by Maoism from childhood to youth. In 1966, when called upon to rebel, they immediately turned into Mao’s fervent followers. However, the Red Guard Movement soon degenerated into intense factional fighting. Finally, they were sent down to the countryside in the Rustication Movement, formally launched on December 22, 1968. It has been estimated that more than 17 million young people were sent to villages or military farms. They were supposed to “set roots” in the countryside, to become a “new generation of cultured peasants.” They were referred to as Zhiqing (知青, educated youth). From fervent Red Guard to rusticated youth, this generation experienced a drastic change in fate. The most devastating was the loss of education. Years of rustication disillusioned them. The irony was that, through this “re-education” campaign, they were exposed personally to the dim reality of rural China. It is thus no surprise that they are the main proponents of Root-Searching Literature. The Zhiqing generation and the Rightist writers constitute two main forces in the Chinese literary scene.

Writers of Rural Origin: From the village to the army/ coal mine and to the city There is a distinctive group of writers of rural origin who joined the army to escape rural poverty, received education there, and rose to prominence because of their talent. These writers have a profound understanding of rural China, and, thus, their portrayal of rural China is from an insider’s perspective rather than an outsider’s perspective, such as that of the Zhiqing writers. They are the key writers of China’s regional literature. They often use their hometown as a fictional setting, as seen in Mo Yan’s Gaomi (高密) in Shandong Province, Yan Lianke’s (阎连科, b. 1958) Yaogou Gully (瑶沟), and Zhou Daxin’s (周大新, b. 1952) Nanyang Basin (南阳盆地) in Henan Province. There are also writers from a rural background who made their career in the city through attending university and their literary success. Outstanding examples include Jia Pingwa (贾平凹, b. 1952), Lu Yao (路遥, 1949–1992), and Liu Zhenyun (b. 1958). Lurking beneath the works of these writers, one often finds a profound sense of resentment against the government’s strict, unfair division of the people into rural and urban categories. At the same time, one also finds their deep attachment to their rural roots, which become a rich impetus for regional literature. The paradox of some of these writers is that they live in the city, but they continuously set their fiction in rural China.

Writers Born in the 1960s: Growing up in the Cultural Revolution This group of writers were children when the Cultural Revolution broke out. They innocently watched the violent struggles and human evils. Those from “bad” backgrounds were condemned, along with their families. All this left a deep impression on them. One manifestation of such in their work is the recurrence of evil and violence, as typically reflected in the works of Yu Hua (余华, b. 1962) and Su Tong (苏童, b. 1963).


One advantage enjoyed by this group of writers concerns the better educational opportunities they had than were possible for the slightly older Zhiqing. Many of them entered university in the early 1980s, which coincided with the thaw and, along with it, the influx of foreign ideas through translations and the media. Many Chinese writers in the 1980s were influenced by such figures as Sartre, Kafka, García Márquez, and Borges. It is thus not surprising that these writers became the first to experiment with the avant-garde in the mid-1980s. Their writings subvert the conventional pattern, not only of expression, but also of preconceived concepts and practices, traditional or communist. Bei Cun (北村, b. 1965), a representative of this group, even writes about religious themes. But there are exceptions, as shown in Chi Zijian’s (迟子建,b. 1964) works, which tend to be detached from the actualities of the Cultural Revolution.

Women Writers: Shades of feminist writing The desexualized, socialist realist depiction of “women upholding half of the sky” of the Maoist period has totally diminished. Chinese women writers from all ages occupy an important position in postMao literature. Zong Pu (b. 1928) was among the earliest to experiment with modernist techniques. Shen Rong and Zhang Jie, both born in the 1930s, were among the earliest female writers of critical realism. Zhang Jie particularly emerged as an early feminist writer in the late 1970s. Lin Bai (b. 1958) and Chen Ran (b. 1962) made use of “private” feminist fiction to deconstruct the dominant discourse of the male ruling apparatus. Using the body as the site of expression, they explore female subjectivity and sexual identity. Some Chinese women writers, however, refuse to be labeled by gender. Zhang KangKang (张抗抗, b. 1950), for instance, prefers to be referred to as a “writer,” not a “female writer.” Fang Fang (方方) and Chi Li (池莉) were both pioneers of the trend of New Realism in the late 1980s. Their shift from the high-flown, abstract nature of grand narratives to everyday living reflects their female vision of space. It signals the return to the concreteness of life rather than revolutionary male rhetoric.

Other Writers: Unique backgrounds and subject matter There are also writers who are unique in the sense that they do not particularly share certain experiences, except for an overall milieu. Standing out among them are writers of mixed background, for instance, Tashi Dawa and Alai. Tashi Dawa has a Tibetan father and Chinese mother, and Alai has a Tibetan father and Hui mother. Both writers identify themselves as Tibetan and share a passion to write about their cultural heritage and criticize its lack of drive for modernization. Tashi Dawa is remarkable in his avant-garde experiment, which skillfully combines magic realism with Tibetan religious life. Alai’s works carry a sense of quietude and mysticism. There are also female writers with unique backgrounds. For instance, Shanghai writer Cheng Naishan’s (程乃珊, 1946–2013) grandfather was director of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank, and she had overseas connections. Her upper-class upbringing, English education, and Hong Kong connection had a great influence on her fiction. Guangzhou writer Zhang Xin is able to depict the white-collar ladies and female entrepreneurs of this city, which is heavily influenced by Hong Kong. Ye Guangqin, the daughter of a Manchu royal family, focuses on the tragic misfits of her siblings, against the turbulent Chinese history. My theoretical viewpoint for dealing with these writers and their works does not derive from a single perspective, but is rather a synthesis of several—biographical, textual, and historical. Despite Western critics’ recent efforts to proclaim the “death” of the author, it is important to offer biographical information on writers who are little known, if known at all. It is all the more relevant for Chinese writers whose lives and work are closely involved in the changing social and political situations. They create out of the context in which they live. My own orientation might be called empirical and pluralistic. For evaluation, besides examining the writers’ overall developments in subject matter, narrative style, and ideas, I have considered several areas. For instance, I look at how they challenge the dominant power; how they deal with the memory


of the past (particularly the Anti-Rightist Campaign and the Cultural Revolution) and Chinese tradition; how they view gender; and how they respond to social changes, from the planned economy to the market economy. I also situate each writer in the context of contemporary Chinese literature in particular, and in the historical development of 20th-century Chinese literature in general. As mentioned above, there are different ways of organizing the material. I have arranged the writers alphabetically to give flexibility to readers. I have also provided a list arranged by year of birth. Because there are many homonyms in the Chinese language, I have included the Chinese characters beside the Pinyin romanization. For each entry, I have attempted to give a trajectory of the writer’s writing career and organize the presentation by theme or style, depending on the characteristics of the writer. Representative works will be highlighted. When a work is mentioned, I have tried to give the source, if known, of its first appearance. I believe this will more accurately reflect the stages of development of the writer concerned. As most works will be new to readers, I have tried to provide necessary content, besides the critical evaluation. Owing to my long-term involvement in the field, I have been able to obtain first-hand biographical material from some of the writers. The book can be read with my earlier book, Morning Sun: Interviews with Chinese Writers of the Lost Generation (1994), which includes 26 writers from the Maoist generation. I have expanded the content of some of them to reflect the further development of some writers. Despite their achievements, Chinese writers have to face censorship. There are still taboos, such as the Tian’anmen Incident of 1989 and in-depth exploration of the Cultural Revolution. The intentional erasing or suppression of memory of the leadership has caused great damage to the breadth and depth of writing. Obvious consequences include gaps in narration and characters’ deliberate lack of memory. Frequently, one finds an obvious skip from the 1980s to the 1990s, as if the Tian’anmen Incident had never happened. There are problems stemming from the writers themselves. Although Chinese writers are not short of moral preoccupations in their work, there is a need for deeper probing of humanity and philosophical contemplations. Also, on reading a large number of works, one finds a repetition of content and style. One explanation may come from the lack of originality and individuality, from a writer’s desire to be part of a popular trend, or to cater to the market. It may not be a cause for complaint, but I found that some writers write too fast and too much, leading to a decline in quality in some works. The role of literature in the Chinese nation occupies a more important role than one would imagine in the West. In traditional China, literary figures were highly respected, in bad times or good times. During the Maoist period, Chinese writers were regarded as part of the propaganda machine. During the 1980s, they were revered as heroes for their taboo-breaking works. In the recent 30 and more years, the return of literature to literature itself has taken a winding but rewarding path. Even though the tide of the market economy has seemingly pushed them aside, they know what their role is, and that’s what matters.

Notes 1. The following books contain information about 20th-century playwrights, poets, and fiction writers from mainland China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong and include some post-Mao writers: for instance, Bonnie S. McDougall and Kam Louie’s The Literature of China in the Twentieth Century. New York: Columbia University Press, 1997; Yang Li’s A Biography Dictionary of Modern Chinese Writers. Beijing: New World Press, 1994; and Li-Hua Ying’s The A to Z of Modern Chinese Literature. Plymouth, UK: Scarecrow Press, 2010. 2. For a study of China’s Internet literature, see Michael Hockx, Internet Literature in China. New York: Columbia University Press, 2015. 3. “Guanyu ‘Banzhuren’ de huiyi” (关于“班主任,” 的回忆, Recollection of “The Class Teacher”) in Liu Xinwu zishu (刘心武 自述, In Liu Xihnwu’s Own Words). Zhengzhou: Daxiang chubanshe, 2002, pp. 146–152. 4. Laifong Leung, Morning Sun: Interviews with Chinese Writers of the Lost Generation. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1994, pp. 251–258.

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A AH CHENG (阿城, B. 1948) “King of Chess” Ah Cheng, pseudonym of Zhong Ah Cheng, 钟阿 城, is best known for his novella “The King of Chess” (Qiwang, 棋 王 , Shanghai wenxue, 4, 1984), which instantly captured the attention of readers in China and abroad when it appeared. It has become one of the most widely read and studied Chinese works overseas to come out of post-Mao China. This work, along with his two subsequent novellas, “The King of Trees” (Shuwang, 树 王 , 1985) and “The King of Children” (Haiziwang, 孩子王, 1985), forms “The Three Kings Series” (San wang xilie). “The King of Children” and the “King of Chess” have been made into films, consecutively, in 1987 and 1991. Though Ah Cheng’s ancestral home was Chongqing (重庆), Sichuan Province, he was born in Beijing. His father, Zhong Dianfei 钟惦斐 (1919–1987), a native of Chongqing, made his way to Yan’an (延安), the revolutionary base of the CCP, in 1937, attended university there, and, after graduation, taught at the Lu Xun Art Institute. After CCP’s victory in 1949, Zhong Dianfei became a leading film critic and an official in the central Propaganda Department. During the Hundred Flowers Campaign (1956), in response to the call to promote Chinese film, he published the article “The Gongs and Drums of Film” (Dianying de luogu, 电影的锣鼓, Wenyibao, 23, December 15, 1956) criticizing party interference in film making. This caused him to be labeled a Rightist during the Anti-Rightist Campaign (1957). He was sent to labor reform in Tangshan (唐山), Hebei Province, where he later contracted liver disease. Ah Cheng’s mother, a clerk in the

Beijing Film Studio, had to take care of five children and an elderly mother-in-law by herself. For survival, Ah Cheng had to sell his father’s books. He would read them quickly before selling them, a horrendous experience that ironically made him a well-read teenager. He also benefited a great deal from old bookstores, which were stuffed with books that people had abandoned after the communists came to power.1 In the early 1960s, when his father’s situation improved somewhat, Ah Cheng was allowed to attend the Number Four Middle School, a school for the children of the politically privileged. Among his schoolmates were now-famous figures such as film director Chen Kaige (陈凯歌, b. 1952), poet Bei Dao (北岛, b. 1949), and writer Lao Gui (老鬼, b. 1947). When the Rustication Movement began in December 1968, Ah Cheng responded by going to Shanxi Province with his friends. However, because they went without official permission, they were not allowed to stay. As Ah Cheng was fond of landscape painting, he decided to go to Inner Mongolia for its vast landscapes. But he stayed there only a few months. In order to receive a monthly income of 26 yuan, he asked to be transferred to the Production and Construction Corps in Yunnan Province in southwestern China. Five years later, he managed to obtain a transfer to Kunming, the capital city of the province, where he worked in a local cultural office. His talent was noticed by Fan Zeng (范曾, b. 1938), an exiled painter in Yunnan, and with his help, Ah Cheng returned to Beijing in 1979 and worked for International Books as art editor, doing layout and design. Ah Cheng’s storytelling talent was already known in the countryside. In a remote part of Yunnan Province, amid the Xishuangbanna 西双

10 CONTEMPORARY CHINESE FICTION WRITERS 版纳 mountains, where electricity was absent, Ah Cheng entertained his Zhiqing friends in the evenings with tales he improvised from the works of such writers as Balzac, Tolstoy, and Jack London. Frequently, his friends would offer him cigarettes and food. Back in Beijing, he continued to tell his tales to friends at gatherings, until one day a friend suggested that he should write his own stories. Ah Cheng wrote “The King of Chess” during an unusually hot summer in August 1983. When asked what motivated him to write this story, he candidly replied that all he wanted was to earn some cash to buy vegetables and preserve them for the winter months. He completed the story in three days and sent the manuscript to a number of literary magazines, but was rejected by all. He finally sent it to Shanghai Literature, and it was accepted and became an overnight sensation. In December 1985, he was invited to give talks in Hong Kong, a rare privilege at that time. Lee Yee (Li Yi, 李怡), chief editor of the internationally known intellectual magazine The Nineties (Jiushi niandai, 九十年代), held a discussion on December 14, 1985, with Ah Cheng, attended by such figures as the internationally known film director Chuey Hark (Xu Ke, 徐克), artist Zhang Langlang (张朗 朗, who was also the agent for Ah Cheng’s work outside China), Taiwan writer Shi Shuqing (施叔 青), and the playwright Liu Chenghan (刘成汉) who later wrote the film script for “The King of Chess.”2 In 1985, Ah Cheng’s first collection of his work, containing the “Three Kings Series” and two others, appeared in Hong Kong before appearing in Mainland China, which was rare at the time. In 1988, Taiwan published his collection, including the “Three Kings Series,” with an addition of six short stories. In 1986, Ah Cheng was invited to the United States, where he lectured at many universities. After the lecture tour, he settled in the United States. For several years, he relied on his carpentry skills to make a living. It was a pity that he did not write any more “king” stories. The reader is at once struck by the natural language of “The King of Chess,” which differs drastically from the style of Mao Speak. The flow of the narration is in a well-paced rhythm. Though not well-versed in Chinese chess, Ah Cheng has created an unforgettable image of the chess freak Wang Yisheng (Wang One-life, 王 一生), nicknamed “Chess Fool,” and gives vivid descriptions of the game. Seemingly out of touch

with society, Wang Yisheng lives in his own world according to his own logic. The chess pieces his mother made from grinding the handles of toothbrushes do not have Chinese characters on them. This metaphorical image not only signifies boundless motherly love that words cannot fully express, but also has Taoist connotations—one is reminded of the first line of the Tao Te Ching that “the Way that can be told is not a Way; the name that can be named is not a constant name.” That Wang Yisheng’s mentor is an old garbage collector suggests true tradition being kept alive on the margins of society (minjian, 民间). The affirmation of Chinese traditional culture using Chinese chess places Ah Cheng in the Root-Searching School. The Zhiqing Ni Bin (倪斌) embodies the noble temperament of Confucian gentlemen. He gives up his family heirloom, a Ming dynasty chess set, in order to obtain permission for Wang Yisheng to enter the chess context. But Wang Yisheng, also gentlemanly, declines Ni Bin’s kindness. The plot takes a turn when up to a thousand people surround him, urging him to challenge the winners of the contest. The scene of a sudden gathering of people, not for a political show of a mass rally, but for a chess game, carries a double statement in its rejection of political manipulation and affirmation of people’s genuine interest in traditional culture. The building up of the atmosphere is marvelous. The manner in which Wang Yisheng plays the game is reminiscent of a Taoist in deep meditation. His agreement to tie the game at the old master’s request is in accordance with his awareness of Confucian respect for the old and the Taoist notion of being empty as a prerequisite to being full. The denouement adds a further philosophical dimension to the text. Wang Yisheng and all his fellow friends are physically exhausted after the chess competition and lower the curtain and fall asleep on the stage (a place they spend the night), reflecting the metaphor that life is a dream, a stage play. “The King of Trees” is a provocative novella touching on the theme of ecological protection. Though Ah Cheng does not point it out directly in the text, the setting undoubtedly is a Production and Construction Corps by a thick forest in Yunnan Province. The sent-down youths have been indoctrinated to be revolutionary by cutting the virgin forest to plant a rubber plantation. Hardly do they realize that their action is ironically tragic, both ecologically and personally. The Chinese metaphor of nurturing (educating) a


human being no different from nurturing a tree is evoked so vividly as to suggest that their education has been brutally cut short, like the trees. The war against nature faces opposition from a stubborn, honest, discharged soldier Knotty Xiao (萧), nicknamed “The King of Trees,” who has a superb skill in cutting and splitting trees according to the rhythm of nature. After the ignorant sentdown youths cut the biggest and legendary tree on top of the hill, Knotty Xiao falls ill. His death signifies the futile protest against ignorance and tyranny. “The King of Children” is a critique of the rote-learning and mind-stifling propagandistic education apparatus enforced by the party. The first-person Zhiqing narrator, who has only middle-school education, is sent to teach thirdyears in a junior middle school in a remote village. He learns one shocking thing after another: that he is ironically the best educated among the teachers at the school; that the students are mixed in age from their teens to 20s; that they do not have textbooks; and that their standard is no higher than grade school. The idea of returning to the basics is conveyed when he teaches the students how to use a dictionary and how to write truthfully and simplistically. As expected, metaphorically, he is dismissed by the local leadership. The call “Save the children!” uttered by Lu Xun in his classic novella “Diary of a Mad Man” (Kuangren riji) in the early 20th century is ironically still valid. Ah Cheng became a frequent contributor to The Nineties (Jiushi niandai) when he was in the United States. In 2002, his jottings were collected in the book Chinese Wonders (Biandi fengliu, 遍 地风流), which covers a wide range of topics and characters in everyday situations, under and after Mao: for instance, a Red Guard revisiting a ruin after the destruction of a temple. These essays show Ah Cheng’s aesthetic emphasis on the ordinary person and everyday life, and their resilience despite political ups and downs. They stress a return to the basics and a reassertion of everyday realism and traditional wisdom. Ah Cheng returns to China periodically for piece work in film and stage production projects.

Notes 1. On Ah Cheng and his life, see Zhu Wei (朱伟), Zuojia biji ji qita (作家笔记及其他, Notes on Writers and Others). Nanjing: Jiangsu renmin chubanshe, 2005, pp. 50–59.

2. “Yu Ah Cheng dongla xiche” (与 阿 城 东 拉 西 扯 , A Random Talk with Ah Cheng), in Ah Cheng Xiaoshuo (阿城小说, Ah Cheng’s Fiction). Taipei: Haifeng chubanshe, 1989, 3rd edn, pp. 14–54.

Translations into English “The Bath,” trans. Stephen Fleming. Chinese Literature, Spring (1989): 72–75. “The Cableway,” Chinese Literature, Spring (1989): 67–71. “The Tree Stump”, in Jeanne Tai (ed.), Bette Bao Lord, and Leo Ou-Fan Lee. Spring Bamboo: A Collection of Contemporary Chinese Short Stories. New York: Random House, 1989, pp. 229–244. “King of Chess” (Chapters 3 and 4), trans. W.J.F. Jenner, in Bian Ying (ed.). The Time is Not Yet Ripe: Contemporary China’s Best Writers and Their Stories. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1991, pp. 14–40. Three Kings: Three Stories from Today’s China (trans. and introduction by Bonnie S. McDougall). London: Collins Harvill, 1990. “Chimney Smoke” (trans. Howard Goldblatt), in Helen Siu (ed), Furrows: Peasants, Intellectuals, and the State: Stories and Histories from Modern China. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1990, pp. 262–268. “Father”, in Helen Siu, ibid., pp. 311–320. “The First Half of My Life: A Boy from the City Struggling for Survival in Far-Away Yunnan” (trans. Linette Lee), in Helmut Martin and Jeffrey Kinkley (eds.), Modern Chinese Writers: Self-Portrayals. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1992, pp. 106–117. “Ricer Lanterns” (trans. Xiaoying Lynette Shi), in Street Wizards and Other New Folklore. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 2009, pp. 65–77.

ALAI (阿来, B. 1959) Half Hui and Half Tibetan Alai, a writer with a mixed Hui and Tibetan background, is best known for his long novel After the Dust Settled (Chen’ai luoding, 尘埃落定, 1998; English translation Red Poppies, 2002), which won the prestigious Mao Dun Literary Prize in 2000 and appeared in 16 languages. After Tashi Dawa (扎西达娃), Alai is the second Tibetan writer to rise to prominence. Though not as mesmerizing as Tashi Dawa’s colorful magic realism, Alai’s fiction strikes his readers with a low-keyed,


unhurried, and often poetic style in its lively and thoughtful representation of Tibetan life in the borderland of the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR). Like Tashi Dawa, Alai makes use of Tibetan folk legends, local customs, and religious and historical figures, but he inclines to be more realistic, diluting the elements of Tibetan mysticism. Among writers using Chinese language as a medium of expression, Alai is one of the best, especially in his precision of diction and well-paced narrative rhythm. By the first decade of the 21st century, Alai had published more than a dozen short stories and novellas and three novels. Alai was born in Kergu (Matang, 马塘, in Chinese) Village, Barkham (Maerkang, 马尔康) County, Ngawa (Aba, 阿坝) Prefecture, in the TAR of Sichuan Province. His father is a Hui (Muslim), and his mother is Tibetan. He identifies himself as Tibetan. He grew up in a big family and was the eldest of many siblings. When he was five, like many children in the region, Alai looked after sheep and cattle. He attended a village school and did not learn to speak Chinese until the third grade. For middle school, he had to walk on hilly paths for 150 li each day. Along the way, he would pick herbal plants and gather wood to pay his school fees. These solitary journeys nurtured his feelings for nature. This explains the recurrent nature imagery, the journey motif, and the ecological themes in his fiction. It also explains why he wrote the book Ideal Kingdom for Plants and Grass (Caomu lixiangguo, 草木理想国, 2012), which contains his blog essays on nature, especially the myriad flowers. After he completed junior middle school in 1974, Alai returned to work as a commune member. Half a year later, he got a labor job at a hydraulic construction site. One day, he wrote his name on his hat. Impressed by Alai’s Chinese calligraphy, a foreman assigned him to drive a tractor. In 1977, Alai passed the newly reinstated university examination and entered Barkham Teachers’ College. In 1979, he was assigned to teach in a remote district. Two years later, he was transferred to teach middle school in the township of Barkham. There, he became acquainted with some local writing groups. His first poem, “Mother, a Shiny Statue” (Muqin, shanguang de diaoxiang, 母亲,闪光的雕像), won a local prize in 1982. He published his first collection of poetry, Suomo River (Suomo He, 梭磨河) in 1989.1 Alai’s first story, “Old Mansion” (Lao fangzi, 老房子, 1983),2 depicts the fatalistic attitudes

among older Tibetans through the doorman’s subservient attitude to his former estate owner. Alai critically captures the atmosphere of a decaying mansion and, with it, the remnants of a past social order. After writing several stories, he was assigned to work as editor for the magazine New Grass Land (Xin caodi, 新草地). In 1996, he was transferred to Chengdu, capital of Sichuan Province, to become editor of the magazine Science Fiction World (Kehuan shijie, 科幻世界). He soon became its chief editor. In a short time, he expanded the journal to create six similar publications, with high circulations among scientific journals in China. He left his job as editor to engage in full-time writing and he currently holds the chairmanship of the Sichuan Writers’ Association and is a vice-chair of the Chinese Writers’ Association. Alai’s works are generally set in his home district, where the Tibetans live a semi-agricultural, semi-nomadic life. It is a border region where the Tibetan and Han Chinese cultures meet. It provides the background for themes of cultural identity and cultural conflict. He combines elements such as the “wild man or woman creatures,” dreams, fortune-telling, folk myths and legends, and religious practices with down-toearth details of Tibetan life, ranging from the food Tibetans eat and the houses they live in to the incense they burn and the schools the children attend. He attempts to give a realistic representation of the Tibetan community, with its unique history, culture, and religion, against the turbulent history in Tibet during Nationalist and Communist rule. Alai’s fiction is characterized by the recurrent motif of the journey, used in myriad ways. It may be the author–narrator travelling to unfamiliar locations—such as a remote village, a quiet valley, a frozen mountain, a temple, a decrepit hostel, or the old estate of a defunct noble family. It may be a character’s journey of escape, adventure, pilgrimage, or aimless wandering. It may be a continuous coming and going from home to other places. It may even be a psychological journey into the past. Alai’s fiction is also characterized by the recurrent self-reflection of the narrator’s action, as shown, for instance, in the sentence pattern of “I see myself doing something,” or “He sees himself doing something.” Besides creating a narrative distance, this self-reflection increases the psychological depth of the character.


Tibetan Lives, Folk Tales, Cultural Roots, and the Journey Motif Alai derives material from the rich oral tradition of Tibet. The story “The Silversmith in the Moonlight” (Yueguang xia de yinjiang, 月光下的银 匠)3 is a beautiful rendering of a folk tale. It portrays the life of an orphan who makes excellent silver decorations. More interesting is “Aku Tenpa” (阿 古顿巴),4 a lively portrayal of a legendary wise man of Tibet who masks his wisdom with seeming stupidity. He is Tibet’s Afanty (阿凡提), a wise man of Xinjiang. Aku Tenpa is the third son of a chieftain. His mother died giving birth to him because his head was too big. For this reason, Aku Tenpa is disliked by his father and elder brothers. To avoid being killed by his elder brothers, he leaves home. Aku Tenpa’s wisdom is revealed through successive dramatic encounters, each one building up his stature. The most significant trick he plays is that he tells the people of a district that there is treasure underground. People flock there to dig in the soil but find nothing. So, they plant grain in the soil and have a good harvest a few months later. They have gotten the treasure from Aku Tenpa without realizing it. Alai combines the journey motif with folk belief, human suffering, and eco-criticism. In “Wild Man Creature” (Yeren, 野人, Qingnian zuojia, 6, 1989), the author–narrator, who is passing a remote town where people believe in the legend of the “wild man creature,” meets a distraught family at a hostel. He befriends the hostel owner’s little son, who suffers from the trauma of having witnessed his grandfather being buried in a landslide caused by excessive tree felling. At the beginning of the text, the narrator encounters a young man who tries to sell him fake gold pieces. This is not an insignificant detail. The young man turns out to be the little boy’s elder brother, who is trying to make money to cure the little boy. When the narrator sees the elder brother again, his disgust turns into sympathy. This story is reminiscent of stories of Lu Xun (鲁迅, “New Year Sacrifice,” Zhufu, 祝福), Rou Shi (柔石, “February,” Eryue, 二月), and many others from the May Fourth tradition: an intellectual outsider enters a locale (village) where he learns of the misery of the people, but, unable to help, he leaves, feeling a sense of guilt. Alai uses the journey motif to tackle the question of trust. “Silver Cup Snake” (Yinbei she, 银杯蛇, Sichuan wenxue, 3, 1991) is a simple alle-

gorical tale told in the first person. The technique of repetition carries the plot forward. Five travelers leave their group to walk along a path through a forest. They kill a small silver cup snake on the way. They then get into a conversation about the revenge of animals. A moment later, they see a bigger snake of the same kind, which immediately makes them think of revenge. They kill that big snake too. As they continue walking, they again see a huge snake of the same kind, lying across the path. Now, they are more convinced of the revenge of animals. Horrified, they make their way back to join the group. The twist of the plot is thoughtprovoking. Whether it is true that snakes take revenge is no longer an issue. The issue now is that, when they tell the other travelers of their horrifying adventure, to their dismay, nobody believes them; worse still, rumors are stirred up about them. As they descend the mountain, even the five of them stop talking about it. Trust among them is totally lost. Dislocation and alienation are frequently dealt with in Alai’s fiction. In “Locust Blossoms” (Huaihua, 槐花, Xiandai zuojia, 5, 1990), an old Tibetan hunter moves to the city after his son has become a local police-station head. Soon, the hunter finds himself a total misfit in the city. The images of nature from his past—the flowers, the trees, the valleys, and the animals back home contrast sharply with those of the urban present— concrete buildings, trucks, neon lights, and noisy disco music. His son finds him a job as a night watchman at a parking lot. The situation is made more unbearable when his well-meaning son builds him a symbolically cage-like small lodge by the parking lot, with a glass top, so that he can watch the vehicles from “home.” His only comfort comes from a street fellow who speaks his language, but who soon disappears. The last resort for him is the smell of the locust flowers blown from the riverbank, which reminds him of home. This effortless twist adds a poetic touch to the story. Alai often refers to himself as a writer on the margins. His novella “Blood Ties” (Xuemai, 血脉)5 is an exploration of cultural identity through three generations of males. Dislocation plays a role in identity formation. So does language. When the Han grandfather first arrived at the TAR not knowing a word of Tibetan, he was called a “mute” by the locals, a symbolic loss of voice. Only after he married a Tibetan woman, lived there most of his life, forgot his native language,


and spoke fluent Tibetan, was he then accepted by the locals as “one of us.” Blood ties play an important role in one’s identity, but it is not so clear cut when cultural factors are involved. The narrator’s hybrid father feels proud of his Tibetan roots, but these roots, however, make him feel awkward (because of his language, his clothing, his manner, etc.) when visiting his son (the firstperson narrator), a college teacher of Tibetan culture in a Han-dominated city. They engage in a thoughtful conversation. The father asks, “You think you are Tibetan, right?” “Yes.” “Do you really want to be a Tibetan?” In answer to this question, the son (first-person narrator) reflects: In a nation and culture where you have to be clear about your ethnicity, you can only belong to one. Even though I have two kinds of blood in me, even though I am both, and want to be both, I can only be one or the other, and I can only choose one. (p. 114) He goes on to tell his father, “I want to be and don’t want to be.” His father nods his head because he is in the same position. After the grandfather’s death, the first-person narrator reflects again on his awkward in-between status (speaking Alai’s mind): He [grandfather] wants his hybrid grandson to carry on, yet his grandson can’t. In the city, I am a Tibetan. In Tibet, in the eyes of peasants and shepherds, we are a different kind of people. They teach us the tradition, the chanting and singing. We write them on paper, record them in tapes, and use them to exchange for salaries. (p. 149)

After the Dust Settled: Folk wisdom and allegory Alai published his first collection of short stories and novellas, Bloodstains of the Past (Jiunian de xueji, 旧年的血迹), in May 1989. Around this time, he took a two-month trip alone to the grassland, where he drank, ate, talked, sang, and lived among

the Tibetans. After the trip, he felt energized and conceived his first novel, After the Dust Settled. He completed it in 1994, and, after many rejections, part of it appeared in the prestigious literary journal Contemporary (Dangdai, 1998) and was published by the Peoples Press the same year. It immediately became a big hit and, in 2000, it won the prestigious Mao Dun Literary Prize, placing Alai among the ranks of China’s top writers. After the Dust Settled (English translation, Red Poppies, 2002) can be read as an elegy for the fall of an old system. It is set in the 1940s, in the borderland between Tibet and Sichuan, and Alai incorporates folk customs, legends, ballads, and religious rituals into the plot. The narrative is engaging and continuously revealing, as the protagonist, the idiot son of a Maichi chieftain ( 马其土司), is growing up against the changing historical background. As often in literature, the idiot is not entirely stupid; he is clever in his own way, masked by his seeming stupidity. By the casting of the first-person protagonist as an idiot, the effect of defamiliarization is achieved in representing the surroundings and human interactions. The idiot’s mother is a Han Chinese and the second wife of the authoritarian chieftain. Besides the 18-year-old maid Dolma (卓玛), with whom the idiot, at 13, has a playful sexual relationship, he also has a playmate who is the son of an executioner. Like his father, the idiot has absolute power over those who serve him. He lives on the Maichi estate, symbolically overseeing the immense fields under his father’s rule through his window. The red poppies are the key images, associated with wealth, power, and inevitable decline. As the chieftains gain huge profits and power from opium, they arouse the jealousy of other chieftains. When the Maichi chieftain loses out to the enemy chieftains, like the wise man Aku Tenpa, who told the people to grow grain, the idiot takes the risk of telling the Maichi chieftain to do the same. This turns out to be a blessing, because, as the opium price drops, those growing only red poppies suffer from famine. The idiot gains glory and trust from his father. The evitable fall of the chieftain with the tide of history soon puts his idiot son in greater danger. Toward the end of the narrative, a young man, whose father had been killed by the idiot’s father, appears and stabs him. The idiot is lying in bed bleeding, recalling the scene at the beginning when he was sick in bed at 13, thus structurally completing a cycle. The imperma-


nence of life thus gives the narrative an allegorical significance and Buddhist enlightenment.

Empty Mountain Trilogy: Village history and eco-criticism Alai stopped writing fiction for about ten years to devote himself to editing work. When he re-emerged in the early years of the 21st century, he struck the readers and critics with Empty Mountain (Kongshan, 空山), a trilogy whose title resonated with Buddhist ideas. Empty Mountain comprises three parts, each part consisting of two novellas. Structured like layers of flower petals, each novella is independent, but they are interrelated in location (the village of Ji, 机村), in overlapped characters, and in history, from 1950 to 1999. Alai’s ambition is to construct a history of a Tibetan village. Several critical concerns are evident in these novellas, ranging from such issues as irrational government policies, the relationship between man and nature, and the issue of identity and intercultural interactions and conflicts. During the Maoist era, the ideology of “human beings capable of surpassing nature” (ren ding sheng tian, 人定胜天) was used as justification for the shortsighted policies of waging war against nature, to borrow Judith Shapiro’s term (in her book Mao’s War against Nature, 2001). In the reform era, people in Ji Village sacrifice nature for profit. In the trilogy, Alai delineates the destruction of nature, first in the name of the revolution, then in the name of progress. Believing in the equal status of human beings, animals, and plants in the universe, Alai questions the right of human beings in their war against nature. For instance, the novella “Blown Away in the Wind” (Suifeng piaosan, 随 风 飘 散 , 2004; published in Part I)6 concerns the friendship and death of two village boys, Gela (格拉) and Rabbit (兔子), against the background of the Cultural Revolution. People in the villagers despise Gela, because his unwed mother has dubious origins. Even though Gela is innocent, people still hold onto the prejudiced belief that he caused the death of Rabbit, who was killed by explosive firecrackers. Alai depicts the psychological pain of Gela after Rabbit’s death. Alongside this mishap is the chaos of the Cultural Revolution, as shown in the toppling of the Buddha statue and the violent attacks on lamas, and an order to build a “palace” for Chairman Mao, which results in the felling of trees.

In “Heaven Fire” (Tianhuo, 天 火 , 2005; published in Part I),7 the advice of those experienced in extinguishing fire is ignored, resulting in an uncontrollable forest fire. A bigger mistake that follows is that, in order to put out the fire, people in power give the order to blow up the dam of the beautiful Semocuo Lake (色嫫措湖). After the fire is extinguished, the trees are felled by machines that quickly strip bare the mountain slopes. Alai resorts to the Tibetan tradition of respecting, eulogizing, and living in harmony with nature. He creates Tibetan characters returning to the beautiful Juerlang Valley and redeeming themselves by setting up a company to grow trees. The novella “Dase and Dage” (Dase yu Dage, 达瑟与达戈, 2007; published in Part III)8 is again set in Ji Village. Alai depicts how human desire could drive people to harm nature. Dage, a skillful hunter, is deeply in love with beautiful Semo (色嫫), who is eager to pursue a singing career. To help her obtain a record player–a sign of modernization—Dage commits a moral crime against nature: he agrees to kill the monkeys when they come down to eat the remnants of the grain scattered on the ground after harvest. Alai presents a powerful description of the horrific confrontation of hundreds of monkeys, coming out of the already barren forest for food, with hostile villagers mobilized by greed for profit—a scheme dreamt up by a Han Chinese person in power. From the villagers’ initial refusal to offend nature to their coming up with excuses afterwards, one sees the increasing contamination of economic gain. Love, vanity, and cruelty to nature are all rolled into one in this page of village history. In a recent “Rewriting of Epic” project, Alai constructs the saga of The Song of King Gesar (Gesar wang, 格萨尔王, 2009; English translation, 2013), the longest epic in the world. He designs two plot lines, one concerning the historical king, and the other the modern storyteller/singer Jinmei (晋美), who is Alai in disguise. When the modern storyteller tells the story of the historical king, he has unconsciously juxtaposed the past and the present, thus creating a detached perspective for viewing history. Alai also writes essays. His long essay Staircases of the Great Earth (Dadi de jieti, 大地的阶梯, 2001) is the fruitful result of his roots-searching trip in 2000. It contains seven chapters, each covering an aspect of Tibet, ranging from history, religion, and landscape to customs, villages, and towns, and so forth. The text is a valuable


resource, not only for understanding Alai, but also for understanding his roots. Alai has skillfully combined Tibetan folk tales with the journey motif, while frequently dealing with the question of identity. Through his works set in the TAR, Alai has brought to light topics neglected or ignored by the dominant discourse. Although many Han Chinese writers have written critically about the devastation inflicted on the countryside by the CCP’s irrational policies, the lives of minorities in such circumstances have remained invisible. Alai has filled this gap, and done it impressively with his compassion and humanity, particularly through the theme of human–nature relationships. Notably, Alai has set a high standard in Chinese literary language. He has continued where Tashi Dawa left off, enriching the repertoire of Tibetan literature.

Notes 1. Alai, “Liushui zhang” (流水账, My Account), preface to the collection Baodao (Precious Sword, 宝刀). Beijing: Zuojia chubanshe, 2009, pp. 317–319. 2. Published in Alai, Yueguang xia de yinjiang (月光下 的 银 匠 , Silversmith in the Moonlight). Wuhan: Changjiang wenyi chubanshe, 1999, pp. 1–8. 3. Published in Alai, Yueguang xia de yinjiang (Silversmith in the Moonlight), pp. 1–8. There is a discrepancy between the title on the front cover and that in the book. The title in the book is “Yueguang li de yinjiang.” 4. Ibid., pp. 9–21. 5. Published in Alai, Yueguang xia de yinjiang (Silversmith in Moonlight), pp. 111–154. 6. Also published in Kongshan (空山, Empty Mountain, 1). Beijing: Renmin wenxue chubanshe, 2005. 7. Also published in Kongshan (1). Beijing: Renmin wenxue chubanshe, 2005.

8. Published in Kongshan (3). Beijing: Renmin wenxue chubanshe, 2007.

Translations into English “Two poems” (The Grassland Sings Itself, The Wolf; trans. Herbert J. Batt), in Song of the Snow Lion. University of Hawai’i Press, 2000, pp. 118–119. “Wind over the Grasslands” (trans. Herbert Batt), in Batt (ed.), Tales of Tibet: Sky Burials, Prayer Wheels, and Wind Horses. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2001, pp. 189–204. Red Poppies: A Novel (trans. Howard Goldblatt and Sylvia Li-chun Lin). Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2002. “My Tibetan Cultural Background” (trans. and eds. Ren Zhong and Yang Yuzhi), in Hometowns and Childhood. San Francisco, CA: Long River Press, 2005, pp. 153–162. “Blood Ties” (trans. Karen Gernant and Chen Zeping), Manoa, 17, 1 (Summer 2005): 138–171. “Fish” (selected and trans. Howard Goldblatt), in Joseph S.M. Lau and Howard Goldblatt, The Columbia Anthology of Modern Chinese Literature. NY: Columbia UP, 2007, 2nd edn, pp. 470–479. “A Swarm of Bees Fluttering,” Manoa, 23, 2 (2011): 23–33, 158. “The Hydroelectric Station, the Threshing Machine,” Pathlight: New Chinese Writing, 2 (2012): 22–31. Tibetan Soul: Stories (trans. Karen Gernant and Chen Zeping). Hawaii, HI: University of Hawai’i Press, 2012. The Song of King Gesar (trans. Howard Goldblatt and Sylvia Li-chun Lin). Edinburgh, UK: Canongate Books, 2013.

B BAI HUA (白桦, B. 1930)

From Patriotic Student to Condemned Rightist

Braving Through Political Campaigns

Bai Hua was precocious. His first poem, “Textile Worker” (Zhigong, 职工), which shows sympathy for textile workers, appeared in Zhongzhou Daily (Zhongzhou ribao, 中州日报) in 1946, under the pen name Bai Hua. The name Bai Hua, literally “white birch,” was taken from a Russian poem. He was soon involved in an underground communist organization and edited a magazine called People (Renmin, 人民). For this, he was expelled from school in 1947. He then transferred to Xinyang Normal School 信阳师范学校, where, besides studying, he edited a column for the Southern Henan People’s Daily (Yunan minbao, 豫南民报). As he had attracted the attention of the Nationalist agents, he left school. He was subsequently sent by the underground communists to do propaganda work in the 13th Brigade under Chen Geng’s (陈赓, 1903–1961) Central Plain Field Army of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), a job that took him to provinces including Fujian, Zhejiang, Jiangxi, Guangdong, Guangxi, Sichuan, and Yunnan. He witnessed many battles during the Civil War, including the decisive Huaihai Battle (淮海战役), from November 1948 to January 1949. After 1949, Bai Hua joined the army and was assigned to the Creative Writing Section of the Political Headquarters of Kunming Military District. In 1952, he was secretary for Marshall He Long (贺龙, 1896–1969). Bai Hua’s assignment in Yunnan Province gave him an opportunity to learn about the lives of several ethnic minorities, such as the Naxi (纳西) minority and the matriarchic Mosuo (摩梭) minority. Bai Hua’s curiosity about, and respect for, the cultures and traditions

Novelist, poet, essayist, playwright, and screenwriter, Bai Hua 白桦, pseudonym of Chen Youhua (陈佑华), is among the most versatile Chinese writers to appear after 1949. However, owing to his steadfast and outspoken temperament, he was the only Chinese writer who was attacked in almost every political campaign during, and after the Maoist period. At more than 80 years of age, Bai Hua still maintains an independent spirit and freedom-loving attitude. He is a highly revered nonconformist writer. His works have been translated into many languages, and he is among the best-known Chinese authors outside his home country after Mao. Bai Hua was born in 1930 to gentry in Xinyang (信阳), Henan Province. His mother was illiterate, but she could sing a repertoire of folk songs, which nurtured Bai Hua’s literary temperament from childhood. His twin brother, Ye Nan (叶楠, 1930–2003), was known for his prize-winning scripts for the films Evening Rain in Ba Mountain (Bashan yeyu, 巴山夜雨, 1980) and The First SinoJapanese War (1894; Jiawu fengyun, 甲午风云, 1981). During World War II, Bai Hua’s father was buried alive by the Japanese, which had a deep impact on him. Bai Hua enrolled in an old-style school run by his uncle, where he learned traditional Chinese classics. In 1943, he joined his elder sister in Huangchuan County (潢川县) in the same province, where he attended junior middle school while working part time in a textile factory. During this time, he started reading left-leaning books and writing poetry, essays, and fiction.


of the minorities made him stand out among Han Chinese writers. What he learned from them would later become a rich source for his writing. Bai Hua was productive from 1953 to 1957, largely following the party line. Besides two shortstory collections, The Deer Path (Lu zou de lu, 鹿走的路, 1953, co-authored) and Voices from the Borderland (Bianjiang de shengyin, 边疆的声音, 1954), a film based on his story “The Arrival of the Mountain Horsemen” (Shanjian lingxiang mabang lai, 山间铃响马帮来) was made in 1954 by the Shanghai Film Studio. This was one of the earliest “Films of Suppressing the Bandits in Border Regions” (bianjiang jingfei pian, 边疆 警 匪 片 ) and deals with the sabotage of the Nationalist remnants in the newly established minority border regions. He also published two narrative poems, The Eagles (Yingqun, 鹰群, 1951) and Peacock (Kongque, 孔雀, 1957), as well as the poetry collection Memories of Golden Sand River (Jinshajiang de huainian, 金沙江的怀念, 1955). Peacock is based on a popular folk tale of Xishuangbanna (西双版纳) of Yunnan Province. It is a lyrical presentation of the love story between the Seventh Princess (who has wings like peacock feathers) of Dragon King and the prince of another kingdom. Bai Hua’s poetry tends to have a flavor of revolutionary romanticism, with a refined diction and a touch of lyrical melancholy, as demonstrated in “A Letter to Mother” (Jiashu, 家书, 1956) and “In Front of Nie Er’s Grave”(Zai Nie Er muqian, 在聂耳墓前).1 Bai Hua’s misfortune began in the mid-1950s. During an attack on Hu Feng (胡风, 1902–1985), a conscientious literary theoretician critical of Mao’s Yan’an Talks (1942), Bai Hua was detained for eight months in Beijing for intense investigation into his three letters to Hu Feng. Unable to bear the endless investigation, Bai Hua attempted suicide but was saved. In spring 1956, the case against him was dropped. Bigger trouble was yet to come. In September 1957, Bai Hua was publicly denounced and, in spring 1958, he was branded a Rightist for speaking up against the local leadership. He was expelled from the army and the party. Thanks to the help of a friend, he was sent to work as a fitter in the Shanghai August First Film Studio, instead of being exiled to a remote district. In 1964, Bai Hua was reinstated in the army and he resumed writing. Two years later, the Cultural Revolution broke out, and he was again under investigation and was imprisoned for seven years in Wuhan, Hebei Province.

The Case of “Unrequited Love” In 1977, one year after Mao’s death, Bai Hua and his wife Wang Bei (王蓓, an actress) collaborated to write the play and film script Morning Glow (Shuguang, 曙光, 1978, 1980) based on the life of Marshall He Long (贺龙, who was persecuted by Mao). It depicts the fierce struggles within the CCP in the 1930s, indirectly criticizing Mao’s cruelty toward his colleagues. Bai Hua’s other play and film script, Glittering Lights Tonight (Jinye xingguang canlan, 今夜星光灿烂, 1978, 1980), portrays the massive number of deaths in the Huaihai Battle. Both scripts were deemed to slander the CCP by the army. Bai Hua only narrowly escaped misfortune, thanks to the onset of the Third Plenum of the 11th Central Committee in November 1978. Bai Hua was fully rehabilitated in 1979. In November of the same year, he was invited to the Fourth National Congress of Writers and Artists, the first gathering since 1961. Deeply saddened by the sight of his fellow writers appearing with white hair and by the absence of numerous others who had died, he gave his famous speech entitled “No Breakthrough, No Literature” (Meiyou tupo, meiyou wenxue, 没有突破, 没有文学).2 His outspoken words were applauded, making him one of the most courageous writers in the post-Mao Chinese literary scene. In 1981, Bai Hua became the first Chinese writer attacked by name nationwide after Mao’s death, creating uproar in China and among the cultural communities overseas. The work in question was the film script “Unrequited Love” (Kulian, 苦恋, or “Bitter Love”, Shiyue, 3, 1979) and the film based on it entitled The Sun and the People (Taiyang he ren, 太阳和人, 1980) directed by Peng Ning (彭宁). The script centers upon the fate of patriotic painter Ling Chenguang (凌晨光), who escapes to the United States during the SinoJapanese War, gains fame there, and marries beautiful Lüniang (绿娘), whom he had met in China. After the victory of the CCP, the couple decide to return to serve the motherland, taking their baby daughter Xingxing (星星, Star) along. However, they are mistrusted by the party. Toward the end of the Cultural Revolution (1976), the protagonist joins the protest in Tian’anmen following Zhou Enlai’s death (January 8, 1976) and hides in the woods to avoid persecution by the Gang of Four followers. Cold and sick, he symbolically crawls on the snow until he dies exhausted on the dot of the question mark made by his body.


Though criticized from a Western perspective by a scholar for artistic shortcomings such as the overuse of coincidence,3 the subject matter itself is a breakthrough, considering its appearance in 1979. The original film script ends with the rising sun. This was changed on the order of Wang Renzhong (王任重 , 1917–1992), Head of the Central Propaganda Department, into a series of dots appearing, with the sound of a drum. The film contains striking images such as wild geese flying together in a shape resembling the Chinese character for “human” (人), a metaphorical call for the return of human dignity. The film was shown in the winter of 1980 to a limited audience. The controversy revolving around the film escalated with the formal involvement of Huang Gang (黄纲, 1917–1993), editor of the journal Report of the Era (Shidai de baogao, 时代的报告), on April 20, 1981. Subsequently, a long article by cultural bureaucrats Tang Yin (唐因, 1925–1997) and Tang Dacheng (唐达成, 1928–1999), denouncing Bai Hua and the film, appeared in the Literary Gazette (Wenyi bao, 文艺报, 19, 1981). The criticism of “Unrequited Love” and the film adaptation, for deviating from the Four Cardinal Principles, negating patriotism, and promoting anarchism, individualism, and bourgeois liberalism, became nationwide. The criticism focused on three key scenes. In the first, the boy protagonist goes into a temple and, seeing the blackened Buddha statue, he asks why it is blackened. The monk answers that the Buddha statue turned black because too many people worshipped him with burning incense. This scene was interpreted as slandering Mao’s image. In the second scene, the protagonist’s daughter, who has married an overseas Chinese man, decides to go abroad, but he objects to the idea. The daughter then asks him, “I understand you, father, I understand you too well, father, you love this country of ours, so deeply . . . [original] but does this country love you?!”4 In the criticism, the daughter’s question was changed to, “you love the motherland, but does the motherland love you?” and Bai Hua was attacked for slandering the motherland. The last scene, in which the protagonist dies on the dot of the question mark on the snow, was attacked for carrying too many negative connotations.5 Bai Hua was pressured to write a confession. The unwillingness of the confession he came up with was not difficult to detect. Notably, during the campaign against Bai Hua, not a single Chinese writer joined in the attack.

Ironically, the attack brought Bai Hua international fame. From then on, it seemed that any writer who was targeted would get international attention. Bai Hua was invited to visit Hong Kong in 1987, and, in 1988, he was invited to Japan, France, Austria, and Germany and to participate in the University of Iowa International Writing Program. In an interview in Shenzhen (June 18, 2010), Bai Hua lamented the wasting of talents before they had had a chance to show the world.6 The film was never shown in China, though a Taiwan version was made later (1982). Peng Ning, the talented young director left the film industry and went to do business in Hong Kong. He died of a heart attack in 2009. The actresses in the film left the field. One went to the United States and was never heard of again.

Sociopolitical Critiques and Reflections Besides the “Unrequited Love” film script, Bai Hua reentered the literary scene with a number of stories critical of various aspects of Chinese society. “A Bundle of Letters” (Yishu xinzha, 一 束信札, Renmin wenxue, 1, 1980) consists of seven letters from the righteous daughter of an army officer to her boyfriend to unveil the corruption of what Milovan Djilas refers to as the “new class.” “Morning in Gingko Village” (Yinxing Cun de zaochen, 银杏村的早晨, Renmin wenxue, 2, 1980) portrays a stubborn village cadre who cannot face up to the fact that the peasants no longer believe in the idea that “being poor is glorious” and have been doing business on their own initiatives. The novella “Oh! Ancient Channels” (Ah, gulao de hangdao, 啊, 古老的航道, Qingming, 1, 1980) shows the “middle-of-the-road” philosophy adopted by an old peasant because of the fear that, when doing anything, “don’t be at the forefront, nor at the end, but follow the middle of the road.” Through a reform-minded college student, Bai Hua symbolically conveys the idea that, “our water channels are too old” and “they need to be thoroughly dug up and cleared,” because “not many people go to the front, still too few dare to stand up front, too many stand in the middle, too many keep silent and look around.” In the short novel Oh, Mother (Mama a, mama, 妈妈啊, 妈妈, Shouhuo, 4, 1980), Bai Hua juxtaposes the past and the present to show the confessions of Zhong Ling (钟翎), a high-ranking official. Zhong Ling was an orphan. Both of his


parents were underground communists killed by the Nationalists. In the process of growing up, he was saved and adopted by seven different women. Thus, he was forever indebted to these surrogate mothers. The way these “mothers” nurtured him (son of the CCP) was like that of the common people helping to build the state. As such, he should repay his debt to the people. But what actually happened became his deep regret.

The Ethnic Minority, Ecological Concern, and Historical Reflection Bai Hua’s best known novel, The Remote Country of Women (Yuanfang youge nüer guo, 远方有个女 儿国, 1988), concerns oppression and freedom. It progresses alternately along two separate plot lines. One line develops along the coming of age of Sunamei (苏纳美), a beautiful and carefree 13year-old girl of the Mosuo minority in Yunnan Province. Bai Hua uses the technique of defamiliarization to depict Sunamei’s perception of the “strange” Han culture after she joins a drama troupe in town. To Bai Hua, the freedom-loving Mosuo people have their own way of life and need not be taught by the Han. As the Han protagonist Liang Rui (梁锐) says, “They don’t have marriage, but they have love. In comparison, we have marriages, but no love. I think they are more moral . . . [original].”7 The other line of the narrative deals with an art student, Liang Rui, his brief involvement in the Red Guard Movement, his subsequent exile during the Cultural Revolution to a labor reform farm, and his escape. Coincidence brings him to the daughter of a denounced deputy mayor. With her help, he hides in her apartment. A striking contrast between political barbarism and high art is shown when he thirstily listens to Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6, Pathétique, with the windows tightly closed, temporarily escaping from the yelling of political slogans in the street. The two plot lines converge in Chapter 21, when Liang Rui, now released from prison after the fall of the Gang of Four, requests to be sent to work in a small town in Yunnan Province, where he meets Sunamei and falls in love with her. The cultural gap between them, however, is too large to bridge. After a fire, Sunamei disappears with her newfound lover, symbolizing her defiance of the Han conventions. Realizing he is an outsider and can never adjust to Sunamei’s kind of free love, Liang Rui returns to his less-than-ideal world.

Bai Hua’s short novel Tears and Stream (Leishui Xishui, 泪水, 溪水, 1993), though not structurally balanced, explores the theme of ecological preservation and its conflict with modernization. The narrative is focalized through the first-person narrator, Professor Chen (陈教 授), an expert in wild animals. Thirty years ago, as a student, he went to collect wild-life species along the beautiful Golden Sand River in western Yunnan Province. Jia Cuo (甲错), a lively singer and dancer of mixed Naxi and Tibetan origin, was his companion and translator. The story begins with the professor’s nostalgic return to the old place where he meets a writer writing the biography of Jia Cuo. The embedded story reveals Jia Cuo’s hysterical attempt to destroy the foundations of a bridge to vent his anger at the destruction of nature in Tibet. The sudden collapse of the bridge due to a landslide, hence, serves as a symbolic warning by nature. As a conscientious writer, Bai Hua has inherited the traditional role of the literati to speak out against human evil. His 1995 novel River without Return (Liushui wu guicheng, 流 水 无 归 程 ) deals with people’s corrupted morality in the process of economic development through the microcosm of a hotel in a modern coastal city. The transient nature of the hotel’s occupants allows the characters to carry out their schemes for one ultimate aim—profitmaking—without any social restraints. Bai Hua’s ironically titled novel Nothing is Sadder than an Undying Heart (Ai mo da yu xin wei si, 哀莫大于心未死, 1992) was published in Taiwan for an obvious reason. The novel begins with the author–protagonist in Beijing, awakened by a phone call from Jennie, a Chinese American friend from Los Angeles, asking if he can hear the sounds of the guns and tanks (of the Tian’anmen Incident of June 4, 1989). Framed between the gun shots at the beginning and the end, Bai Hua painfully recollects the loss of love and dear ones in childhood, his escapes from the sounds of guns and rifles during the war, and his persecutions and imprisonments. Bai Hua’s son was born in 1958 and left for the United States in the 1980s. In 1998, Bai Hua published his autobiographical novel Every Star Shines at Night (Mei yike xing dou zhaoliang guo heiye, 每一颗星都照亮过黑夜), which consists of 22 letters to his son. Written in an unassuming manner, with deep, candid feelings, these letters contain, not only the personal and familial history of Bai Hua, but also the turbulent history of


China. The above two novels thus can be read together as Bai Hua’s fictional autobiography. Bai Hua is a poet in his own right. His most recent narrative poem, “From Qiu Jin to Lin Zhao” (Cong Qiu Jin dao Lin Zhao, 从秋瑾到 林昭, 2009), attracted much attention. Both Qiu Jin (1875–1907) and Lin Zhao (1932–1968) were hailed as martyrs. Qiu Jin was executed because of her involvement in anti-Qing government activities; Lin Zhao was executed during the Cultural Revolution for writing diaries critical of Mao. The case of Qiu Jin is well-known history, but the case of Lin Zhao remains a sensitive issue, despite her rehabilitation in 1981 from the label of Rightist. Lin Zhao, a fierce and inquisitive student of journalism at Beijing University, was condemned as a Rightist for speaking up for other Rightists. After a brief release in the early 1960s, she was jailed again and executed on April 29, 1968. In a refined, powerful rhetoric, Bai Hua’s insightful narrative poem places the lives of these two remarkable women together against the background of China’s turbulent century. It was because of the attack on “Unrequited Love” in 1981 that Bai Hua became, ironically, one of the first Chinese writers to gain international fame after Mao. Since then, his name has been associated with it, though he has produced many other, worthwhile works. Entering the 21st century, the mention of his name still attracts attention. During his 80th-birthday celebration in Shanghai, he was highly praised as a mirror for spineless writers.

Notes 1. Bai Hua, Jinshajiang de huainian (金沙江的怀念, Memories of Gold Sand River). Beijing: Zhongguo qingnian chubanshe, 1956, pp. 45–46, 59–61. 2. See Renmin ribao (People’s Daily), November 13, 1979. 3. Michael Duke, Blooming and Contending: Chinese Literature in the Post-Mao Era. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1985, p. 128. 4. Bai Hua, Bai Hua de kulian shijie (白桦的苦恋世界, Bai Hua’s World of Unrequited Love). Taipei: Caifeng chubanshe, 1982, p. 289. 5. See Wang Zhangling (王章陵; ed.), Bai Hua de “Lu” 白桦的 “路” (The “Path” of Bai Hua). Taipei: Liming wenhua shiye gufen youxian gongsi, 1982; also in Bai Hua Juan (白桦卷, By and about Bai Hua), published by the Action in Supporting Chinese Writers Group in Hong Kong, 1981. 6. Bai Hua, Zhang Hong (张鸿), “Bai Hua on Writing and Life” (Bai Hua zuotan chuangzuo yu rensheng, 白桦座谈创作与人生), in Shige Yuekan (诗歌月刊), 9, 2010: 68–75.

7. Bai Hua, Yuanfang youge nüer guo (远方有个女儿国, The Remote Country of Women). Beijing: Renmin wenxue chubanshe, 1988, p. 305.

Translations into English Pai Hua’s (Bai Hua) Cinematic Script Unrequited Love: with Related Introduction Material, T.C. Chang, Y.T. Lin and S.Y. Chen. Taipei: Institute of Current China Studies, China Studies Series No. 3, 1981. “No Breakthrough, No Literature,” Chinese Literature, April (1980): 95–101. Also in Howard Goldblatt (ed.), Chinese Literature for the 1980s: The Fourth Congress of Writers & Artists. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1982, pp. 56–67. “Five Letters” (trans. Janice Wickeri), in Lee Yee (ed.), The New Realism: Writings from China after the Cultural Revolution. New York: Hippocrene Books, 1983, pp. 323–349. Also “A Bundle of Letters,” in Perry Link (ed.), Stubborn Weeds: Popular and Controversial Chinese Literature after the Cultural Revolution. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1983, pp. 114–142. “China’s Contemporary Literature: Reading Out to the World and to the Future” (trans. Tang Yiming and Marsha L. Wagner), in Helmut Martin and Jeffrey Kinkley (eds.), Modern Chinese Writers: SelfPortrayals. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1992, pp. 41–45. The Remote Country of Women (trans. Qingyun Wu and Thomas O. Bee). Honolulu, HI: University of Hawai’i Press, 1994.

BEI CUN (北村, B. 1965) A Christian Writer Bei Cun, pseudonym of Kang Hong (康洪), is special in two ways: first, he is an avant-garde writer; and second, he is the only openly Christian Chinese writer who enthusiastically incorporates religious themes into his fiction. Religion has not played a major role in the development of Chinese civilization. Confucianism and Daoism are more systems of thought than real religions. If there have been religions in China, they have come from foreign countries, such as Buddhism from India during the Han dynasty. During the Maoist period, religion was regarded as “opium.” All religions were banned, and themes concerning religion were not allowed to appear in literature. In the early 1980s, Chinese writers began to include religious elements in their writing,


but not without political consequences. For instance, Li Ping’s (礼平) 1981 novella “When the Evening Glow Disappears” (Wanxia xiaoshi de shihou, 晚 霞 消 失 的 时 候 , Shiyue, 1, 1981) which depicts the female protagonist’s belief in Christianity, aroused nationwide controversy and resulted in the suppression of the author. Since the 1990s, despite greater relaxation in government control over religion, Chinese writers themselves have rarely dealt with the subject, because very few of them are religious. Bei Cun is an exception. Bei Cun was born in Changting County (长汀 县), Fujian Province. Bei Cun and his cohorts (such as Yu Hua (余华), Su Tong (苏童) and Ge Fei [格非]), who were born in the 1960s, were considered by critics as writers who had not endured hardship. Yet, they witnessed the Cultural Revolution from the perspective of a child, a unique experience that later allowed them to portray human evil perceptively. When they reached adulthood in the early 1980s, China was just beginning to open up to the outside world, and with this came an influx of foreign works and ideas. Bei Cun’s maturing years coincided with this cultural change. He entered Xiamen University (厦门大学), Fujian Province, in 1981 and graduated in 1985 with a major in Chinese. While in university, he began to write avant-garde fiction and attracted much attention. After graduation, he was assigned to work as editor for Fujian Literature (Fujian wenxue, 福建文学). In 1996, he became a freelance writer (which means he does not belong to any official literary work unit). Currently, he is a member of the International Pen Association and lives in Beijing. Bei Cun converted to Protestant Christianity on March 10, 1992. One day, he happened to walk past a church and heard the hymns. He was deeply moved and, soon afterwards, he became a Christian. After that, he changed his artistic focus from mere avant-garde experimentation to the “ultimate concern” (zhongji guanhuai, 终极关怀) of human redemption through Christian belief. Bei Cun’s writing career thus falls into two parts, with 1992 as the demarcation line.

First Stage: Avant-Garde Stories In Bei Cun’s avant-garde stories, the chief characters are mainly urban professionals, white-collar workers, artists, and scholars. The atmosphere tends to be suffocating and gloomy, with a recurring motif of death. They demonstrate his

endeavor to subvert, not only the socialist realism of the dominant discourse, but also conventional narrative practices and, along with them, conventional ideas. Bei Cun’s subversion of authority can be seen in his early symbolic story “Black Horses” (Hei maqun, 黑马群, Fujian wenxue, 1, 1986), in which a group of horses is the subject. The old black horse, the leader, starts running when a violent storm hits. The other horses follow him. They run here and there in the storm, directionless, until finally, unknowingly, they come to a cliff as the sun comes out. The story probes human beings’ blind following of an old authority that is just as lost as they are. In a series of stories from 1989 to 1991, Bei Cun experimented with labyrinths of narration that challenge the reading expectations of ordinary readers. These texts are replete with details of object descriptions, repetitions, intense psychological zigzagging and skepticism, and, almost without exception, death. For instance, in “Uproar” (Guozao zhe shuo, 聒噪者说, Shouhuo, 1, 1991), the detective narrator goes to investigate a murder case in a school for the deaf and mute, which, metaphorically, raises questions concerning the validity of language as a means of communication. The difficulty of finding out what really happened is also caused by the diverse backgrounds of the suspects. By the late 1980s, Bei Cun had established himself as a representative avant-garde writer, particularly when most other avant-garde writers were retreating to more realistic modes of writing to cater for the tastes of ordinary readers. Su Tong even referred to Bei Cun as the “only avant-garde writer.” But, Bei Cun had his puzzlement. After the publication of his novella “Kong Cheng’s Life” (Kong Cheng de shenghuo, 孔成的 生活, Xiaoshuojia, 1, 1992), which deals with a distraught poet–architect and his suicide after having murdered seven people, Bei Cun felt he had come to a dead end.

Second Stage: Love and Redemption After his conversion to Christianity in 1992, Bei Cun stopped writing for a year. Since 1993, Bei Cun’s works has fallen into two broad categories: love and redemption. These stories no longer aim to create a labyrinthine effect, but deal with the cruelty of life and the search for spiritual peace and religious faith.


Bei Cun has an inclination to portray overly sensitive females who are seeking ideal, pure love but end in disappointment, or even tragic death. “Lament of Loss” (Shangshi, 伤逝, Zhongshan, 6, 1993), which bears the same title as Lu Xun’s story of the early 20th century, questions the existence of ideal love. Chaochen (超尘), whose name literally means “above dust” (beyond human realm), is destined to fail to find ideal love in a mundane world. The narrative focuses on Chaochen’s internal emotions and thoughts. At university, she falls madly in love with Li Dongyan (李东烟, east smoke), who, after a mysterious failed attempt to commit suicide by jumping out of the window of the dormitory, drops out of university and returns to his hometown, and nothing further is heard from him. Greatly disappointed, Chaochen accepts the proposal of an editor, only to find out his ugliness after marriage. The sudden return of Li Dongyan ignites Chaochen’s passion, but it turns out to be a yet greater disappointment. Bei Cun’s pessimism is further revealed in the development of the lovers. After Li Dongyan makes his fortune, however, without explanation, he jumps to his death, mysteriously fulfilling his earlier suicide attempt. After her husband publicly humiliates her, Chaochen kills herself by cutting her veins, her blood flooding the office building. A similar theme is also dealt with in “The Love Story of Mazhuo” (Mazhuo de aiqing, 玛卓的 爱情, 1994).1 Three first-person narrators describe tragic love from their perspective, creating a sense of uncertainty. Mazhuo (玛卓) and Liu Ren (刘仁) love each other, but they don’t know how to express their love. Financial difficulty makes their tense relationship worse. Liu Ren goes to work in Japan. The author’s pessimism is conveyed in what follows. Mazhuo’s suspicion of Liu Ren’s love leads her to commit suicide the day she arrives Japan. Before her suicide, she throws Liu Ren’s love letters out of the train, creating an absurd scene of white papers swirling in the wind. Liu Ren is devastated and kills himself by plunging his car into the sea. The first-person narrator, who accompanies Mazhuo to Japan, returns to China, sealing the tragic love story. Bei Cun’s novella “Zhou Yu’s Train” (Zhou Yu de huoche, 周渔的火车)2 was made into an internationally known film in 2002 (directed by Sun Zhou, 孙周), featuring Gong Li (巩俐) as the female protagonist. It is an enticing tale about the unreliability of love and the difficulty of actually knowing another person. Zhou Yu (周渔), like the

sensitive women Chaochen and Mazhuo in the above two works, believes firmly that her husband, Chen Qing (陈清), is faithful to her, even though they live apart in two different cities, owing to residential restrictions. He dutifully takes the train home twice a week. After his accidental death by electric shock in the rain, Zhou Yu still loves him as if he were still alive. The story could have ended at this point to eulogize eternal love. The turn of the plot opens up a provocative dimension. As it turns out, Chen Qing has a secret lover, Li Lan (李兰). In Li Lan’s view, Zhou Yu’s possessiveness and suspiciousness suffocated Chen Qing, driving him to infidelity. How true it is remains another mystery. Bei Cun’s superb novel The Baptismal River (Shixi de he, 施洗的河, 1993) marks his change of direction, not only in manner of expression, but also in theme. In the essay “Sacred Enlightenment and the Writing of Conscience” (Shensheng de qishi yu liangzhi de xiezuo, 神圣的启示与良知的写 作 , Zhongshan, 4, 1994), he points out that Chinese intellectuals have almost never had a notion of God, and, therefore, they can only call for the perfection of morality, but not human beings’ ultimate concern. He also proclaims, “As a Christian writer, I call for a conscientious stance and a conscientious writing. No matter in China or elsewhere, only this kind of writing is significant.” Beginning with this work, Bei Cun shifted from his avant-garde writing, which he now thought would not lead him anywhere, for, no matter how well he could imitate Kafka, the best he could be would be Kafka number two. With his religious weapon, he was now ready to embark on another journey, one that would wake people up from the sea of sin and enlighten them to accept the Gospel for the salvation of the soul. Set in the Republican period, the allegorical novel displays the evil of human beings and, toward the end, it offers hope for redemption. The narrative progresses in a linear fashion. The protagonist Liu Lang (刘 浪 , a homonym of “wandering”, liulang) leaves his hometown Huotong (霍童) to go to the city Zhangban (樟坂) to inherit the business left by his retired father, who made his fortune by evil means, opium dealing being one of them. Liu Lang quickly follows his father’s evil path, competing against and taking revenge on his rival Ma Da (马大), head of another faction in the same city. The hatred between the two escalates after Liu Lang has used a trick to take Ma Da’s woman and marries her.


Liu Lang has turned into a monster. He even orders the killing of his young brother, who, by mistake, has gone to Ma Da’s camp. He tortures his subordinates according to his whims. He mistreats his wife and locks up his concubine until the latter becomes insane. After becoming addicted to opium, he deteriorates physically and mentally. By building a grave-like mansion in which to store his fortune and live, he has metaphorically turned into a half-human, halfdemon. His double, Ma Da, is no better. Both have turned the city into hell, reminiscent of the evil cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Is there salvation for such evil human beings? More than a decade passes. Both rivals are getting older and weaker and are often woken by nightmares. It is at this point that Bei Cun shows God’s mercy to those who repent. One day, the aging Liu Lang suddenly recognizes, “Originally I didn’t know Ma Da, why the hatred?” (p. 213). They reconcile. Liu Lang wakes up to the fact that all the people he knew have died. Loneliness sets in. He buys a small boat and lets it go where it pleases. He encounters a pastor in a religious community in a village who converts him to Christianity. Liu Lang no longer has to wander. He even takes Ma Da back to his hometown, symbolically completing a cycle of his mundane adventure. Bei Cun is not satisfied with portraying life in the realistic mode, but goes beyond to explore the spiritual dimension. The novella “Citizen Kaien” (Gongmin Kaien, 公民凯恩, 1999)3 demonstrates the search for spiritual peace of an urban professional. Kaien works for an advertising company. Driven by ambition, he works his way up, but is often frustrated by office politics and, finally, he decides to quit after his superior steals his project idea. The portrait of Kaien as an image of an ordinary white-collar character is complete by this point. But Bei Cun carries it further with dramatic turns. Kaien is actually very mean to his subordinates, just as his boss was to him, if not worse. Though he has a wife and a son, he keeps a secret lover. Disasters fall upon him one after another when his love affair is exposed. His lover’s husband, who has connections with a secret society, blackmails him for a large amount of money. He has also contracted syphilis. Meanwhile, his wife discovers his secret affair and files for divorce. He has a nervous breakdown. Deep in Kaien’s consciousness, he has always longed for a peaceful life in the countryside. Bei

Dun drives home his message: there is eventually hope for salvation, as long as he seeks it. Bei Cun’s 2004 novel Anger (Fennu, 愤怒) deals with a sense of guilt and a desire for redemption. It is about inequality between those with power and those without, those with money and those without. The first half of the text deals with the miserable life of the philanthropist Li Bailing (李百灵 ) before he became a successful businessman. The second half unfolds his dark past— he killed the policeman who had tortured his father to death in a detention center and ended up in prison. The case of Li Bailing raises the question: can a human being pass judgment on another human being? Is God the only one who can judge? Bei Cun’s 2006 novel I Have an Agreement with God (Wo yu shangdi you ge yue, 我与上帝有个约) also deals with crime and punishment through a robbery and murder case. The good side of human nature leads the criminal to contact the child of the victim, resulting in his arrest. Since he achieved fame in his 20s as a major avant-garde writer, Bei Cun’s writing has continued to evolve. His conversion to Protestant Christianity was a significant turning point in his life and in his writing. Instead of merely depicting the everyday circumstances his characters encounter, he pushes them to extreme situations. He has his characters question the “ultimate concern” of life and the soul. It is in this dimension that Bei Cun’s many stories transcend the level of many works written in the mode of New Realism. Bei Cun, who uses his pen as a means to serve God, has particular significance to Chinese readers in view of the fact that Chinese people have been deprived of the opportunity to develop their religious searching. That said, it does not mean that Bei Cun’s fiction is beyond criticism. His narrative becomes formulaic, and his characters tend to develop along a predetermined path: for those who are sinful, there is usually redemption. Though religiously appropriate, this predictability may limit the richness of his fiction.

Notes 1. Included in Bei Cun, Mazhuo de aiqing (玛卓的 爱情 , The Love Story of Mazhuo). Wuhan: Changjiang wenyi chubanshe, 1994, pp. 184–259. 2. Published in Bei Cun, Gongmin Kaien (公民凯恩, Citizen Kaien). Urumqi: Xinjiang renmin chubanshe, 2002, pp. 212–270. 3. Ibid., pp. 30–89.


Translations into English “The Big Drugstore” (trans. Caroline Mason), in Jing Wang (ed.), China’s Avant-Garde Fiction: An Anthology. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1998, pp. 217–234.

BI FEIYU (毕飞宇, B. 1964) Portraying Women and Blind People Bi Feiyu emerged on the Chinese literary scene in the early 1990s and has been recognized as a male writer excelling in the depiction of women, rural and urban. This recognition is largely based on his two works, The Moon Opera (Qingyi, 青衣 , Huacheng, 3, 2000) and Three Sisters (Yumi, 玉米, 2002). Sure enough, in 2008, the English version of The Moon Opera was listed under best foreign fiction by the British newspaper The Independent. In 2011, his Three Sisters won the Man Asian Literary Prize, and Massage (Tuina, 推拿, 2008) won the Mao Dun Literary Prize. In 2014, he became a household name when the film Massage won Best Feature Film, Best Director, Best New Actor, and Best Adaptation at the Gold Horse Awards Festival in Taiwan. Bi Feiyu’s original surname was Lu (陆 ). Because his father was branded a Rightist, the family was exiled to Xinghua (兴化), Jiangsu Province, in 1958, where he was born. Both his parents were teachers. Bi Feiyu was introduced to literature by his parents and several excellent teachers who had been exiled to Xinghua during the Cultural Revolution. Bi Feiyu lived in the countryside until he attended Yangzhou Normal College (扬州师范学院). After he graduated in 1987 with a major in Chinese literature, he was assigned to teach at a special education school in Nanjing. In 1992, he was recruited to be a reporter on the Nanjing Daily (Nanjing ribao, 南京日报). In 1998, he joined the Jiangsu Writers’ Association and worked as an editor for the literary magazine Yuhua (雨花, Rain Flower). He currently serves as vice-chairman of the Jiangsu Writers’ Association and holds a teaching post at Nanjing University. Bi Feiyu often refers to himself as a villager living in the city. His mixed background might explain his tendency to combine village life and urban life and his detached perspective in the depiction of both.

Bi Feiyu’s language is plain but effective, often infused with improvised Maoist discourse to bring out irony and humor.1 His works are mostly set in two locations, Wang Village (王家庄 ) and Broken Bridge Township (断桥镇). The characters from Wang Village (rural), especially young women wanting to improve their lives, have to overcome many obstacles or make painful sacrifices in order to gain acceptance in Broken Bridge Township (urban). In these works, Bi Feiyu does not use political events to generate plot movement. The ubiquitous political milieu and deep-rooted rural culture give rise to abusive commune cadres, superstitious villagers, and sexually suppressed village youths. Recent changes in the rural landscape due to a massive exodus of villagers as migrants to the coastal cities are among his thematic concerns. Bi Feiyu also sets his fiction in bigger cities such as Nanjing, to capture the drastic changes in Chinese society under economic reform. In other works, he juxtaposes the past (the Cultural Revolution) with the present in the portrayal of the protagonists. He often places his urban intellectuals, prostitutes, teachers, singers, and blind massagers in moral dilemmas.

Experiments and Diverse Themes Born in the early 1960s, Bi Feiyu belongs to the same generation of avant-garde writers as Yu Hua (余华), Su Tong (苏童), and Ge Fei (格非) of the 1980s. The influences of Ma Yuan (马原) and Borges are visible in his early works. Bi Feiyu began writing in 1987. After many rejections, in 1991, he published his first work “Lonely Island” (Gudao, 孤岛, Huacheng, 1, 1991), a loosely structured novella that questions the causality of history and condemns the abuse of power through the somewhat fussy figures residing on Yangzi Island in the middle of the Yangtze River. Bi Feiyu’s short story “May 9th or 10th” (Wuyue jiuri huo shiri, 五月九日或十日 , Zhongshan, 6, 1993) demonstrates his greater control of the psychological flow of his characters. The intellectual couple’s routine life is interrupted by the sudden appearance of the wife’s ex-husband, who asks to be put up after a long trip. What follows subverts the expected conflicts between the two male characters, because the intruder has been asleep in the den throughout the two days covered in the narrative. Bi Feiyu’s novella “Cotton Candy in the Rain” (Yutian de mianhuatang, 雨天的棉花糖, Qingnian


wenxue, 8, 1994) subverts war heroism. A peasant family is told that their son has been killed in a battle (suggesting the Sino-Vietnamese War in 1979) and given the honorary title of martyr. The father, a former soldier wounded in the Korean War and an admirer of war heroes, feels proud of his son. But, unexpectedly, the son returns. This twist opens a different direction of the narrative. Rather than being happy to see the son, the father feels ashamed of him. Meanwhile, the son, suffering from the trauma of the battle and rejections from his family and fellow villagers, gradually loses his mind and dies. In summer 1995, Bi Feiyu decided to put Ma Yuan and Borges aside and turned to, in his own words, the basics of life. Elsewhere, he reasserted this idea that worldly matters and human sentiments should be the essential subject matter of literature. His shift to realism, however, means, not that he abandoned his techniques, but that he can apply them to more concrete social concerns. In 1996, Bi Feiyu made his name when his short story “The Woman in Lactation” (Puru qi de nüren, 哺乳期的女人, or translated as “Mother’s Milk”, Zuojia, 8, 1996; film, 2013) won an award in the National Best Short Fiction (1996) and the Lu Xun Literary Prize (1997). It is a simple but significant story. Seven-year-old boy Wang Wang (旺旺) lives with his grandfather when his parents go to work in the city, and they return home only for five days during the Chinese New Year. Even though they return with fancy toys, Wang Wang is unhappy. Wang Wang was never breast-fed and is eager for motherly love. The second key character is the woman in lactation next door. One day, when she is just about to finish feeding her baby, Wang Wang suddenly appears and quickly bites her breast, which makes her scream. Immediately, this becomes a scandal in the village. Wang Wang is punished by his grandfather, being told not to go near the woman. Humanity is brought to the fore in the woman’s changed attitude. While the villagers condemn Wang Wang, the woman, who now understands his thirst for motherly love, asks him to come to her. Wang Wang refuses, saying “you are not my mother,” a remark containing profound sadness and disappointment. This story is among the earliest to touch upon the social problem of millions of socalled “children left behind” (liushou ertong, 留守 儿童) in villages while their parents have joined the exodus to the cities to seek their fortune.

The story “Rainbow” (Caihong, 彩虹, Beijing wenxue, 5, 2005) deals with deprivation of familial love, but is set in a city. A lonely boy, left at home by his working parents, does nothing but repeat the same action of licking the window. This catches the attention of an equally lonely intellectual couple whose three children have gone overseas. The couple talk to the boy and gain a warm feeling doing it. Bi Feiyu’s talent for using a small incident to bring forth a significant issue is also evident in the short story “Wang Village and the World” (Diqiu shang de Wang Jia Zhuang, 地球上的王家庄 , Shanghai wenxue, 1, 2002; film, 2003). The curiosity of the eight-year-old boy is ignited by the map of the world his father puts up on the wall. In the boy’s imagination, to reach the Atlantic Ocean, he has to go through the lake. The result, as expected is disastrous. He loses the ducks in his care and is punished. The charm of the story lies in the child’s determination to find the truth, and the unsaid life of the exiled father. Bi Feiyu’s first novel That Summer, that Autumn (Neinian xiatian, neinian qiutian, 那年 夏天,那年秋天, 1998) is set in the 1990s but interrupted by flashbacks to the Cultural Revolution. It deals with the tense relationships between music major Geng Dongliang (耿东亮) and his demanding ex-Zhiqing mother, his old mentor in college, and his crafty song agent, in his journey to fulfill his dream in the city. The mother treats him as her possession, the mentor expects him to be his surrogate self in success, and the agent wants to squeeze his talent for profit. The narrative follows the Bildungsroman of the innocent protagonist’s failed attempts to resist the temptations of sex, money, and fame. He drops out of college and becomes a singer in nightclubs, and is finally swallowed by the corrupt world.

Women’s Fates and Male Power Bi Feiyu is known for his sensitive portrayal of women characters. In 2000, he made a big leap in the superb novella The Moon Opera (Qingyi, 青 衣, Huacheng, 3, 2000) through a powerful delineation of the fate of an idiosyncratic and talented Peking opera actress, Xiao Yanqiu (筱燕秋), and her relationship with her mentor and student. Bi Feiyu exploits the omniscient point of view when depicting the background, but focalizes through the heroine’s point of view so as to achieve emotional immediacy. His familiarity with the


folktale of Lady Chang’e (嫦娥) flying to the moon and Peking opera further lends cultural and artistic texture to the narrative. Censorship is mentioned when a 1959 performance is called off because of political oppression—a certain military general’s remarks, “Ours lands are lovely beyond description” and “Why would any of our young maidens want to flee to the moon?” about the project. Xiao Yanqiu, at 19, becomes famous performing the role of Chang’e, the Moon Lady. Her mentor has been willing to take the role of the understudy. Their relations turn sour when the mentor wants to perform the leading role for the army, but Xiao Yanqiu does not give in. When her mentor eventually gets the role with the support of the army, Xiao Yanqiu, out of jealousy, flings a mug of hot water over her, resulting in the latter’s hospitalization, and Xiao is expelled from the troupe to become a teacher in the drama academy. Twenty years pass. Xiao Yanqiu, at the age of 40, suddenly gets to perform The Moon Opera with the financial support of a rich businessman— a new power arising out of economic reform. The female body as a site of struggle comes to the fore. Xiao Yanqiu goes on a diet; she even sleeps with the businessman, though unwillingly, in order to secure his support. History repeats itself. A younger student, Chunlai (春来), becomes the understudy, and tension soon builds up between them. As the performance approaches, Xiao Yanqiu realizes that she is pregnant by her husband. The common dilemma of women torn between career and motherhood presents itself to the heroine. Without saying a word to him about this, she takes abortion pills. Hours before the performance, her condition gets worse, and she has to be treated in hospital. When she wakes up, she rushes to the opera house, but it is too late. Chunlai, the understudy, is already made up for the performance. Unwilling to give up, and in a delirious state, Xiao Yanqiu puts on her makeup and costume, walks out the door, and performs in front of the opera house in the snow, attracting a big crowd. Here, Bi Feiyu creates one of the most unforgettable scenes in contemporary Chinese fiction. Xiao Yanqiu, totally absorbed in her performance, is oblivious of the blood streaming down her legs and making small black holes in the snow. She has become one with Chang’e, the lonely, self-absorbed Moon Lady, transcending the mundane. Bi Feiyu’s novel Three Sisters (Yumi, 2002) consists of three novellas, but they can be read

independently. With echoes of Chekhov’s Three Sisters, Bi Feiyu has also created three impressive female images. By contrast, the male characters are evasive and weak. Set in Wang Village and Broken Bridge Town, the fates of the three sisters unfold with the progression of recent Chinese history dominated by ubiquitous male power—Yumi 玉 米 in the early 1970s, Yuxiu (玉秀) in the mid1970s, and Yuyang (玉秧) in the early 1980s. Bi Feiyu skillfully combines the omniscient point of view and the view point focalized through the heroines. He also presents the women’s bodies as sites for the manipulation of morality, revenge, and power. Yumi is the eldest daughter of the village party branch secretary, Wang Lianfang (王连方), who typically abuses his power to sleep with many women. Yumi looks after her baby brother, her parents’ eighth child, like a mother. Yumi is revengeful. To repay those who jeer at her mother for having seven daughters but no son, she shows off her baby brother in the village. More frighteningly, she carries the baby brother to the households of those women who had slept with her father, not realizing they are her father’s victims. Yumi is traditional; she treasures her virginity, despite her fiancé’s request. Things change overnight with the loss of power—her father is caught in bed with someone’s wife and is dismissed from his position. Revengeful villagers rape her two sisters. Her fiancé drops her. All this unfolds from Yumi’s perspective. It is thus all the more tragic that Yumi, regarding power as essential, quickly marries someone older but with power in the revolutionary committee in town. By contrast, the younger sister, Yuxiu, is adventurous and restless. Gang-raped in the dark after her father loses power, she leaves the village to join Yumi in town, though the latter does not really welcome her. Yuxiu again falls victim to a man. She has an affair with Yumi’s stepson, who returns for a visit. Bi Feiyu gives an accurate description of the psychological state of a woman enduring an unwanted pregnancy. After Yuxiu secretly gives birth to a baby boy, Yumi orders the baby to be taken away, without letting her see him. Yumi and Yuxiu, one having a legitimate son, and the other not, continue to live in the shadow of a male-dominated society. The youngest sister, Yuyang, though not intelligent, is good at memorization. She enters a normal college in 1982. Out of vanity and for power, she lets herself be used by the campus


patrol chief as informant on fellow classmates. She even becomes his playmate, using her body in order to gain a permit to live in the city. To prove her worth, she exposes her roommate’s secret affair with a teacher to the college authorities, ruining their reputation and future. Ironically, Yuyang is a double victim, of both the statecontrolled education system and male power in the guise of the party officer. In 2005, Bi Feiyu published his second novel, The Plain (Pingyuan, 平原, 2005) which was listed as one of the top ten best novels of the year. It is a subversive tale of the victimized images of sentdown youths, Rightists, and poor peasants. It is set in Wang Village and Broken Bridge Town, from the late years of the Cultural Revolution to immediately after Mao’s death. Though it ends too abruptly, the narrative gives a gripping account of the warped mentality of people in a People’s Commune. The narrative progresses along two lines. One revolves around the sexual suppression of, and tragic love affair between, two village youths, Fang Duan (方端) and Sanya (三丫). Sanya attempts suicide after her mother locks her up for days. When she is eventually found and taken to the hospital, she dies on the way, wrongly treated by a barefoot doctor. The other line revolves around the double personality of the party branch secretary Wu Manling (吴蔓玲), a female Zhiqing who, on the surface, is “an iron girl” (tie guniang, 铁姑娘), but, deep inside, she feels lonely and yearns for love. Her clinging to power leads to her being raped by a desperate sent-down youth who wants her permission to leave. Toward the end of the novel, the author creates a parody in which the villagers are mobilized to enact the triumphant battle with the Nationalists on the eve of the CCP’s victory in 1949, which the villagers treat as a farce.

The Marginal People in the City: The blind massagers The desire to write about the marginalized continued to haunt Bi Feiyu. Finally in 2008, he completed the novel Massage (Tuina, 2008; film, 2014), which won the Mao Dun Literary Prize (2011). It is the first novel in contemporary Chinese literature to focus entirely on the lives of blind people in an urban setting. Bi Feiyu made friends with the blind massagers and has benefited from their opinions in the process of writing.

The novel consists of 21 chapters and an epilogue. Each chapter is focalized through one character. It is set in a massage clinic and an adjacent residence in the city of Nanjing. Though the blind massagers carry the title of doctor, owing to their physical limitations, they live a particularly challenging life. They have various degrees of blindness: some are born blind, some can see light and darkness, and some were able to see at an earlier stage of life. They are very sensitive to sound, smell, and touch. They are very sensitive about what others say to them and how they say it. They easily misunderstand things, owing to the inherent uncertainty of language. They have great difficulty comprehending terms such as foggy, elegant, crystal clear, and grassy green. Because they cannot see, they often feel the presence of others by touch. All these characteristics are utilized by the author in the narration. Monetary concerns play an important part in the blind massagers’ lives. The narrative begins in Shenzhen, a prosperous city adjacent to Hong Kong. It is the place where Dr Wang (王) makes his fortune through hard work; it is also the place where he loses most of his fortune in stocks before he returns to his hometown, Nanjing, with his fiancée, Xiao Kong (小孔). Back home, Dr Wang fiercely defends his earnings by knifing himself when creditors come to press him to pay the gambling debt of his younger brother. Dr Sha (沙), Dr Wang’s old friend and classmate, has the foresight to learn Japanese and English, which enables him to earn a lot more than others. However, the ugly side of human nature is revealed when the jealous fellow massagers teach the foreigner customers to cut his price. Though Bi Feiyu depicts the frustrations and determination, love and fear, jealousy and compassion of the blind massagers from a subjective perspective, the prime quality he attempts to bring out is their nobility and dignity. Bi Feiyu sensitively depicts the love and desires of the massagers. Xiao Ma (小马) is infatuated with Xiao Kong, But, realizing that Xiao Kong is Dr Wang’s fiancée, he chooses to leave them secretly. Du Hong (都红), a talented, blind pianist, is once humiliated at a charity performance. To keep her dignity, she decides to give up music and be trained to be a massager. The pain of unrequited love is particularly acute in Dr Sha, who is secretly in love with Du Hong. He spits blood from overworking throughout the years, ending the novel at a climax. Bi Feiyu has done a tremendous job of constructing


the world of the blind and delineates their inner life with respect. Bi Feiyu’s writing radiates an air of nobility that many writers (perhaps with the exception of the later Ge Fei) of rural origins cannot match. He is skillful at controlling the tension of his narration and at improvising with proverbs, folk sayings, and Maoist discourse to suit his needs. His ability to express the intimate feelings of the female characters is admirable. His critique of the female in her self-abusive way of gaining power is subtle but powerful. How far he can go in his realism after modernism is something to watch for.

Note 1. Qi Chunfeng (祁春风), “Wenge jiyi yu hou xiandai xushi: Bi Feiyu lun” (文革记忆与后现代叙事:毕飞宇论 , Cultural Revolution Memories and Postmodern Narration: On Bi Feiyu), Jiangsu jiaoyu xueyuan xuebao (江苏教育学院学报), 3, 2006: 94–96.

Translations into English “The Ancestor” (trans. John Balcom), in Howard Goldblatt (ed.), Chairman Mao Would Not be Amused: Fiction from Today’s China. New York: Grove Press, 1995, pp. 215–228. “Mother’s Milk” (trans. Zhang Shaoning), Chinese Literature, 4 (1997): 97–106. The Moon Opera (trans. Howard Goldblatt and Sylvia Li-Chun Lin). London: Telegram Books, 2007. “Wang Village and the World” (trans. Eri Abrahamsen), Chinese Literature Today (Summer 2010): 6–10. Three Sisters (trans. Howard Goldblatt and Sylvian LiChun Lin). New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010. “The Deluge” (trans. Eric Abrahamsen), Pathlight: New Chinese Writing (Summer 2013). Massage (trans. Howard Goldblatt). Melbourne, VIC: Penguin, 2014.

C CAN XUE (残雪, B. 1953) Probing the Subconscious and the Grotesque Can Xue 残雪 is the pen name of Deng Xiaohua (邓晓华). The name “Can Xue,” literally meaning “remaining snow,” has a connotation of resisting melting. Indeed, in the early 1980s, while many writers were depicting in realistic mode the tragedies inflicted by the CCP’s disastrous campaigns, Can Xue turned to construct a fictional world that was utterly different from the norm. Heavily influenced by Kafka and Borges, Can Xue was one of the earliest experimental writers to attract attention. Her relentless use of the grotesque and the absurd, coupled with the subversion of form, particularly in language, characterization, plot structure, and imagery, makes her a unique avant-garde writer. Moreover, whereas, in the 1990s, avant-garde writers such as Su Tong (苏童), Yu Hua (余华) and Ge Fei (格非) began modifying their literary experiments, Can Xue has remained steadfast in her own literary pursuit. Can Xue does not conspicuously portray the world from her female perspective, but attempts to transcend the gendered self. Can Xue’s writing is challenging to read. Hence, she is not a popular writer, but she is definitely an important writer. Can Xue is more appreciated outside China and is currently one of the most translated and studied Chinese writers in the West. Can Xue was born in Changsha (长沙), the capital city of Hunan Province. Her father was an underground communist before 1949. In the 1950s, he was the head of the New Hunan Daily (Xin Hunan ribao, 新湖南日报). He was labeled Rightist in the 1957 Anti-Rightist Campaign and was not rehabilitated until 1979. Her mother,

an active communist cadre, was sent to the May Seventh Cadre School. Can Xue and her siblings were raised by their maternal grandmother. Since childhood, Can Xue had suffered great fear interacting with people. This phobia increased as she grew older and would later manifest itself in her fiction. Before the 1990s, jobs were assigned by the state. Can Xue was not satisfied with her assigned job in a factory. She became a self-taught tailor. With the help of her husband, within a few months, their business was profitable. Can Xue, hence, was among the earliest entrepreneurs (getihu, 个体户) in the late 1970s. She kept the business until the 1990s. Being a tailor at home gave Can Xue the freedom to write. Can Xue was a rebellious child. She stopped going to school after she finished sixth grade. In her early teens, she began reading her father’s books, among which were novels by Russian and European writers. From the late 1970s to the 1980s, when there was an influx of foreign works (in translation), Can Xue embraced them enthusiastically. Her favorite writers include Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Kafka, Borges, Faulkner, and Calvino. She emphatically said that Chinese culture had lost its ability to produce new things, and that her writing was entirely inspired by Western literature. By the early years of the 21st century, Can Xue had published five book-length collections of literary notes on Kafka, Borges, Faust, Shakespeare, Dante, Lu Xun, and others. She declared that, “[my] thoughts and emotions are like plants grown in the western tradition, which I dig out and transplant to the Chinese soil. This translated plant is my writing” (p. 20).1 Can Xue says in the preface to a collection of stories published in 2000:


Now I recall that from the very beginning I have had an unusually strong tendency and increasingly solid direction in my writing. Everything seemed propelled by a spirit. I could not figure it out why. I had tried to write fiction with realistic techniques, I had also tried to write poetry, but they all failed because I was not satisfied with them. Perhaps unconsciously I already felt that what I write cannot be found in the commonly known world. Where can they be found? They appear in another world. . . . They exist beyond the horizon, outside my vision, deep down in the spiritual plane, and in between the void and the worldly. (p. 1)2 She stresses that her writing comes from her subconscious, and only through it can she rebel to the utmost. She also points out that irrational writing is the best writing (p. 2). Can Xue’s writing progresses in two stages: those written in the 1980s and those written after the 1990s. Though generally aiming at exploring the essence of human existence, the former tend to be more densely packed with grotesque images, whereas the latter tend to include more plot events.

Works of the 1980s: Obsession, paranoia and grotesque In 1983, Can Xue began experimenting with her writing in the novella “Yellow Mud Street” (Huangni Jie, 黄泥街). After repeated rejections, it finally appeared in 1986 in the 11th issue of China (Zhongguo, 中国), a journal under veteran writer Ding Ling (1904–1986). In fact, her second novella, “Old Floating Clouds” (Canglao de fuyun, 苍 老 的 浮 云 , Zhongguo, 5, 1986) was accepted by the journal China before her first one was. Meanwhile, in 1985, Can Xue published short stories that caught the attention of critics who were looking for avant-garde works to support their ideas. Despite much controversy, Can Xue became a rising star on the Chinese literary scene. Can Xue tends to unveil the dark side of human nature and human existence under oppression through the use of the grotesque. This predilection is typified in her first novella “Yellow Mud Street”. The work is not only a total subversion of the Maoist notion of socialist realism, but also a great departure from the critical realist May Fourth

tradition that came to characterize post-Mao literature. The setting of the Cultural Revolution is not directly portrayed, but is implied by references to the “geweihui” (革委会, revolutionary committee) and “zaofanpai” (造反派, Rebel Faction), and the ever-present control exerted by the top authorities. The novella begins and ends with the firstperson reporter searching for a certain address. The main body of the text emphasizes the nightmarish, ghastly existence of the people living in Yellow Mud Street. The scene is replete with ugly images of maggots, snakes, earthworms, cockroaches, spiders, flies, and mice. There is little character development or plot movement. The characters do not have a personal past. They are referred to by titles and, at most, their relationships, such as father and son, mother and daughter. Warm feelings between individuals are totally absent. They are hostile to each other for no obvious reason and abuse each other by doing awful things, such as putting a poisonous spider at the bottom of a rice bowl. All the characters in “Yellow Mad Street” are paranoid. They peep, suspect, and act violently. They are constantly fearful of an investigator sent by the authorities. They make all kinds of guesses about individuals who happen to come to town. Their paranoia is symbolized by the fact that there are often holes in the walls of their houses that snakes, lizards, mice, and spiders can crawl in as they please. When the sun comes out, it does not bring hope and life, but melts the rubber tires of the trucks with a foul smell and produces maggots. In the narrative, political critique is achieved, not through realistic descriptions of the Cultural Revolution, but through the grotesquely surreal milieu. Human alienation is a motif in Can Xue’s fiction. The conventional view of harmonious married life does not exist in Can Xue’s works. In “The Bull” (Gongniu, 公牛, Furong, 4, 1985), Can Xue depicts, with black humor, the inability to communicate of a husband and wife. Though they exchange conversations, they are selfabsorbed in their own concerns. The husband talks about his toothache day and night, and the wife talks about her white hair and worn appearance. The mirror reflects, metaphorically, both their images, he as an aimless, stubborn bull and she as a superficial woman. In “A Small House on the Hill” (Shanshang de xiaowu, 山上的小屋, also translated as “The Hut on the Hill”, Renmin wenxue, 8, 1985), the family


members only communicate with each other through their vague memories of each other. The father talks obsessively for decades about the pair of scissors he dropped in the well by the house. The first-person narrator talks about the house on the hill, which may or may not exist. Family dysfunction is a recurrent theme in Can Xue’s fiction. The self-sacrificing, all-loving mother image does not appear in her fiction. In her highly acclaimed debut story, “Amei’s Sad Thoughts on a Sunny Day” (Amei zai yige taiyangtian li de chousi, 阿梅在一个太阳天里的 愁思, Tianjin wenxue, 6, 1986), the mother is totally insensitive to the daughter’s needs. Father and son have no feelings for each other, and husband and wife treat each other like strangers. In the short story “Soap Bubbles in Dirty Water” (Wushui shang de feizaopao, 污水上的肥皂泡, Xin Chuangzuo, 1, 1985), the mother, totally alienated, turns into soap bubbles. Though Can Xue portrays the challenges of the female characters, she is not a feminist writer. She transcends the sexes by portraying the subconscious that exists in any human being. In Can Xue’s fiction, people are mutually suspicious of each other, and even abuse each other. In her second novella, “Old Floating Clouds” (Canglao de fuyun, 苍老的浮云, Zhongguo, 5, 1986), the two couples living in the same apartment building are separated by a mirror that happens to be situated in a place that allows peeping to occur. The characters constantly gaze at the mirror and, at the same time, are being watched by the others. Furthermore, their relatives are constantly meddling in their lives, all of them forming a network from which they cannot escape. Combining humor and social critique of the ugly side of human nature, Can Xue’s novel Breakthrough Performance (Tuwei biaoyan, 突围 表演, 1988; renamed Five Spice Street [Wuxiang Jie, 五香街] in 2002) is a satirical tale of a society drowned in rumors, gossip, and privacy invasions through different narrators about a love affair between Lady X and Mister Q. The narrative is made up of the narrators’ conjectures and selfjustifications about other people’s affairs. Dr A represents the male-dominated viewpoint; Miss B represents radical feminist ideas; and Dr C believes that the relationship between men and women is one of competing for power. The novel was repackaged in 2002 with comic-strip pictures.

After the 1990s: The labyrinthine journey and the absurdity of life Entering the 1990s, Can Xue made some adjustments to her writing technique by putting more emphasis on plot events and characters. The basic orientation of exploring the essence of human nature and the absurdity of life remains unchanged. She still makes use of the labyrinthine structure to construct her fictional world, often leaving the reader bewildered in the interpretation of meaning. Can Xue’s journey theme is mostly presented with a labyrinthine structure. The fantastic short story “Losing the Way” (Mishi, 迷失)3 is an exception because it includes some warm family feelings. A grandson is told by his grandfather that they will leave their home to live with a relative after the death of the grandson’s parents due to the collapse of a coal mine. The grandson and grandfather set off on a labyrinthine journey that does not lead them to their destination. That life has no way out is explored in the mysterious story “Returning Journey” (Guitu, 归途, Shanghai wenxue, 11, 1993). The first-person narrator often walks at night across a large grass field to a house inhibited by an old man. The narrator claims that the path is so familiar to him that he can walk even with his eyes closed. The old man then reveals to him that there is a cliff behind the house, and its original owner has fallen from the cliff into the sea and never returned. When the narrator says he has to stay until daybreak so that he can see his way out the next day, the old man tells him that there is no daybreak anymore and he will get used to it. Moreover, there is actually no grass field, and it only exists in the narrator’s mind. The narrator is thus trapped in this space, without a way out. In stories with more social elements, Can Xue focuses on absurd human relations in a politically controlled environment. In the novella “Thought Report” (Sixiang huibao, 思想汇报, Zhuhai, 1, 1991), Can Xue alternates between a first-person perspective and a third-person perspective to depict the difficulties the artist Inventor A faces. The intricate network of relationships with his colleagues, friends, and family form an inescapable human labyrinth. The entire narrative is a metaphor of an individual being controled. In the ironically titled short story “New Life” (Xin shenghuo, 新生活, Dajia, 3, 1996), Shuyi (述 遗), the old female protagonist who wants to live a quiet, peaceful life, moves to a small apartment


on the top floor of a 30-storey building. However, her old neighbors and former colleagues continue to interfere with her life, by suddenly dropping in, telling her rumors about others, or inviting her to a funeral service, which she hates. She tries to explore her new neighborhood, but often she gets disorientated by new buildings and new businesses mushrooming here and there. She is afraid of a mysterious, middle-aged man who lives one floor down, who happens often to take the elevator with her. More worrisome is the elevator, which may stop without warning. Her fear increases as her only neighbor moves out. Through suspense, Can Xue creates an allegorical situation that the female protagonist cannot escape. The tall building is a metaphor of a devouring castle in a modern setting. Besides writing fiction, Can Xue stands out among Chinese writers in that she is interested in literary criticism. The object of her inquiry focuses on her thoughts on Western writers, namely Kafka and Borges. In 1999–2000, she published Castle of the Soul: Understanding Kafka (Linghun de baolei: lijie Kafuka, 灵魂的堡垒: 理解卡夫卡, 1999, translated into Japanese) and Interpreting Borges (Jiedu Boerhesi, 解读博尔赫斯, 2000). In 2004, she published Loners in Hell (Diyu zhong de duxingzhe, 地 狱 中 的 独 行 者 ), which is about Faustian and Shakespearean tragedies, and Eternal Attempts (Yongsheng de caolian, 永生的操练 , 2004), which is about Dante’s Divine Comedy. Despite her generally negative views on Chinese literature, she is fond of Lu Xun (鲁迅). In 2003, she published Art as Revenge (Yishu Fuchou, 艺 术复仇, 2003), which is about Lu Xun’s work “Tempering Sword” (Zhujian, 铸剑) and others. Can Xue has made a great contribution to contemporary Chinese literature. She is a unique writer in many senses of the word. Writing about the subconscious and the absurd, she opens up unexplored dimensions of human existence. She does not deal with what she calls the surface of life, but looks squarely at the absurdity and grotesqueness of life itself. She is subversive both in content and form, and in the conception of art itself.

Notes 1. Can Xue, Can Xue wenxue guan, (残雪文学观, Can Xue’s Literary Views). Nanning: Guangxi Shifan Daxue chubanshe, 2007. 2. Can Xue, “Heian linghun de wudao” (黑暗灵魂的 舞蹈, Dance of a Dark Soul), in Can Xue. Beijing: Renmin wenxue chubanshe, 2000, pp. 1–4.

3. Published in Can Xue, Changfa de zaoyu (长发的 遭 遇 , Changfa’s Encounters). Beijing: Huawen chubanshe, 2002, pp. 44–54.

Translations into English “Dialogue in Heaven” (trans. Gladys Yang). Chinese Literature, Winter (1989): 57–60; also in Contemporary Chinese Women Writers II. Beijing: Chinese Literature, 1991, pp. 136–141. “The Mountain Cabin” (trans. Mei Zhong). Chinese Literature, Summer (1989): 139–143. “The Hut on the Hill” (trans. Michael S. Duke), Renditions, 27–28, Spring and Fall (1987): 204–207; also collected in his Worlds of Modern Chinese Fiction: Short Stories & Novellas from the People’s Republic, Taiwan & Hong Kong. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1991, pp. 41–44; Joseph S.M. Lau & Howard Goldblatt (eds.), The Columbia Anthology of Modern Chinese Literature. New York: Columbia University Press, Modern Asian Literature Series, 1995, pp. 383–386; retranslated by Ronald R. Janssen and Jian Zhang, in Jing Wang (ed.), China’s Avant-Garde Fiction: An Anthology. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1998, pp. 212–216. Dialogues in Paradise (trans. Ronald R. Janssen and Jian Zhang). Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1989. Old Floating Cloud: Two Novellas (trans. Ronald R. Janssen and Jian Zhang). Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1991. “The Summons” (trans. Jian Zhang and Ronald R. Janssen), in Howard Goldblatt (ed.), Chairman Mao Would Not Be Amused: Fiction from Today’s China. New York: Grove Press, 1995, pp. 206–214. The Embroidered Shoes (trans. Ronald R. Janssen and Jian Zhang). New York: Henry Holt, 1997. Blue Light in the Sky & Other Stories (trans. Karen Gernant and Chen Zeping). New York: New Directions Books, 2006. Five Spice Street (trans. Karen Gernant and Chen Zeping). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009. “A Particular Sort of Story” (trans. Karen Gernant and Chen Zeping, in Arthur Sze (ed.), Chinese Writers on Writing. San Antonio, TX: Trinity University Press, 2010, pp. 206–210. Vertical Motion (trans. Karen Gernant and Chen Zeping). Rochester, NY: Open Letter, 2011. The Last Lover (trans. Annelise Finegan Wasmoen). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2014.


CHEN CUN (陈村, B. 1954) Subverting the Grand Narrative Chen Cun, pseudonym of Yang Yihua (杨遗华), is a prominent writer from Shanghai and a pioneer in Internet literature.1 He was born to a Hui mother and a Han father, after the latter’s death. Although he identifies himself as a Hui, there is little trace of a Muslim influence, either in his life or his writing.2 In November 1971, at the age of 17, he was sent as a Zhiqing to Chen Cun (陈村, Chen Village, whose name he adopted as his pen name), in Wuwei County (无为), Anhui Province. While in the countryside, Chen Cun read whatever books he could find and started writing poetry, essays, play scripts, and stories. In January 1975, Chen Cun returned to Shanghai for health reasons. After working in a street factory for a couple of years, he entered Shanghai Normal College in 1977, majoring in political education. Upon graduation in 1980, he taught at a school affiliated with workers of a municipal unit. In 1983, he gave up his teaching position to devote his time to writing. In June 1985, he was the first person to obtain a position as a professional writer at the Shanghai branch of the Writers’ Association. In 1978, Chen Cun was diagnosed with a spine problem that resulted in his back being slightly curved forward. He was so depressed that he attempted suicide, but eventually he managed to deal with it. Unlike Shi Tiesheng (史铁生), who obsessively writes about his paralysis, Chen Cun sometimes mocks his “forward-looking” gesture and refers to himself as a “curved person” (wanren, 弯人). He deals with his personal pain, physical and emotional, with a relatively detached attitude. Chen Cun is among the first post-Mao writers to pay attention, not only to “what to write,” but also to “how to write.” His diction is concise, his tone low-key, and his emotion detached. In an interview, he explains the use of his “cold” style: I always feel that people are too loose with their emotions. In the past, there were expressions such as “Oh, our respected Chairman Mao, the Red Sun of our heart! We have many hearty feelings to tell you! We have many passionate songs to sing to you!” All these were in themselves good words. However, once put together, they became very unpleasant to read. So I try to avoid all these.3

Depicting Rusticated Youths from a Detached Angle Chen Cun had a striking start to his writing career. His first story, “Two Generations” (Liangdai ren, 两代人, Shanghai wenxue, 9, 1979), differs from Scar Literature in portraying a rebellious youth and his love–hate relationship with his father, an editor victimized by the Cultural Revolution. In 1985, Chen Cun’s modernist story “Seven Teenage Boys and Girls” (Shaonan Shaonü, yigong qige, 少男少女,一共七个, Wenxue yuebao, 4, 1985) expands his scope to portray a group of rebellious, cynical young characters, in the tone of Catcher in the Rye. It focuses on seven students who have failed the college examination and are now enrolled in a makeup class for next year’s examination. In the voice of the first-person protagonist, Chen Cun reveals the nihilistic thoughts of the young and the unbridgeable gap between generations and between rich and poor. Chen Cun makes frequent use of his rustication experience in his early stories. His two best-known Zhiqing stories, “I Have Lived Here Before” (Wo cengjing zai zheli shenghuo, 我曾经在这里生活, Shanghai wenxue, 3, 1980) and “Blue Flag” (Lanqi, 蓝旗, Zhongguo qingnian, 9, 1982), are characterized by short sentences, witty language, and a non-condescending attitude toward the peasants. “I Have Lived Here Before” (1980) foreshadows the 1982 trend of writing about exZhiqing revisiting the place of rustication. After six years of absence, the first-person protagonist, now a university student in Shanghai, returns to the place of rustication with thoughts of revenge, to visit Xiaowen (小文), his former girlfriend, who married his friend Dashu (大树, Big Tree). Though flashbacks of Xiaowen dominate the narration, suspense is created by her delayed appearance. Dashu remains reticent about telling the whereabouts of Xiaowen, even after playing several chess games with the patient first-person narrator. Toward the end of the story, the suspense is finally broken by Dashu’s four-year-old daughter. Only now does the reader realize that Xiaowen’s death has been foreshadowed at the very beginning, when the first-person narrator recalls that Xiaowen did not know how to swim. At this point, the original purpose of revenge has turned into sadness and sympathy. Dashu’s brief answer that Xiaowen has drowned is like the tip of an iceberg, under which is a deep sorrow. “Blue Flag” (1982) stands out in Zhiqing fiction with witty dialogues, short sentences, and


occasional sarcasm. The first-person Zhiqing narrator treats the peasants as his equals. He becomes the confidant of three peasants: the traditional father who wants his son to marry the girl he picked, the son who wants to marry a classmate, and another poor peasant who is futilely pursuing a wife. The sympathetic but self-reflective protagonist has his own problem: he is eager to return to the city with his girlfriend, but, as sentdown youths, they are not permitted to leave. Moreover, his parents object to their relationship. Ironically, in great contrast to all their frustrations, no matter whether they are rural or urban, the dog Gali (嘎利) can go to its mate whenever and wherever it wants. Chen Cun wrote two novels in 1983, both deriving from his own experience during the Cultural Revolution. The novel The Past (Congqian, 从前, Baihuazhou, 3, 1985) is a Bildungsroman that weaves together vividly three key experiences of the first-person protagonist: his first love (which is limited to the exchange of several visits and letters), his rustication (where he enjoys the friendship of three other Zhiqing), and his near-death illness (during which the kind villagers carry him over rough terrain to hospital). This autobiographical novel is an engaging rendering of his coming-of-age through rustication. The novel Day Students (Zhudu sheng, 住读生, Baihuazhou, 4, 1986) depicts the warped personality of some Zhiqing who, despite their terrible experiences in the countryside, retain the violent mentality of the Cultural Revolution. The symbolic setting of a decaying campus, with troublesome students and unqualified teachers, symbolizes China struggling to escape from the ruins. The climax occurs at the end when the campus burns to the ground, suggesting symbolically a clear break with the past and a possible new future.

Brutal Reality, Illness, and Death The themes of illness and death recur in Chen Cun’s fiction. In the short story “Cancer” (Ai, 癌, Baihuazhou, 2, 1982), a middle-aged worker, previously ignored by others, suddenly receives warm attention after he gets cancer. That he even “enjoys” this kind of concern conveys black humor. The short story “One Day” (Yitian, 一天, Shanghai wenxue, 11, 1985) depicts the absurdity

of life through Zhang San’s (张三, Zhang Number 3, meaning an ordinary person) routine. Chen Cun mixes black humor with brutal reality in his fiction. In the short story “Above Ground, Under Ground” (Dishang dixia, 地上地 下, Shanghai wenxue, 8, 1983), the undergroundpipe repairman has lied to his girlfriend that he is an accountant. When he cannot lie any longer, he confesses to her. The surprise is that the girlfriend also confesses that she is not a business manager but a sales clerk. Chen Cun does not give the conventional happy ending of reconciled “lovers.” Instead, she abandons him to seek her dream lover, and he resumes his underground existence. Chen Cun also makes use of fantastic elements in his urban fiction. In the short story “Steps on the Roof” (Wuding shang de jiaobu, 屋顶上的 脚步),4 the first-person writer has just moved into an apartment from which he can see the entrance to the new Pudong tunnel to Shanghai proper. As he works at home, he is sensitive to the sounds around him, especially the sound of steps on the roof. Meanwhile, the writer has an affair with the woman next door, who is fascinated with the tunnel. The seemingly romantic adventure takes an eerie turn, however. One day, the real owner next door returns and tells the writer that, not long ago, her former tenant was killed inside that tunnel. The short story “Death” (Si, 死, Shanghai wenxue, 9, 1986) is Chen Cun’s superb rendering of the circumstances leading to the death of Fu Lei (傅雷, 1908–1966), the best-known, highly respected translator of French literature in China. Fu Lei and his wife committed suicide at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution. Chen Cun’s residence happens to be near Fu Lei’s. He admires Fu Lei’s work and regards him as his mentor. He visits the studio where they died, and reconstructs the emotional state of the couple in their last moment. He addresses Fu Lei as “you” and tries to understand and rationalize the choice they made with deep respect. This is the most moving piece of writing by Chen Cun.

Ordinary People, Ordinary Life After the 1990s, Chen Cun turned his attention to urban life with a postmodernist bent. He reacted strongly against the grand narrative of heroism and political propaganda. As he said in an interview:


The most disgusting thing to me is “grandness.” I don’t talk big; I don’t talk about big national matters, I only talk about individual matters. I came from “the age of big words”; I have written “fake, exaggerated, empty” essays. Now I feel they were laughable and childish. Comparing the present time with the Cultural Revolution, Chinese society is even more absurd. Everybody is anxious and busy, everybody thinks he/she has a lot to do, but nothing good comes out of their deeds. (p. 45)5 In the short story “Walking on the Street” (Shangjie zouzou, 上街走走 ),6 the first-person protagonist finds joy and meaning walking along the streets. To him, life is walking. In this vein, Chen Cun declared that he used his third novel, Fresh Flowers and (Xianhua he, 鲜花和, Shouhuo, 6, 1997) to “commemorate daily life” (p. 110). Told in the first person by writer Yang Se (杨色), the novel includes in concrete detail his habitual, daily activities—from brushing his teeth to putting away the garbage, cooking, talking with his daughter, and making love with his lover(s). The deliberate details show Chen Cun’s resistance to high-flown narratives, as his protagonist Yang Se says: In summer one big job I do is to kill the flies and mosquitoes. They are like the moon and the sun, one comes after another. The sun and the moon are eternal, so are the flies and the mosquitoes. (p. 133) Through Yang Se, Chen Cun bluntly spells out his insight: “TV drama is a poor imitation of life. Life consists of 99% nonsensical words and 1% meaningful words” (p. 134). Chen Cun even mocks himself through Yang Se: “People have noticed that you have not written a novel for a long time. They notice that you have been writing television scripts and short newspaper essays” (p. 145). To Yang Se, writers are definitely not “engineers of the soul.” They are merely ordinary people who want to make a living by writing words. The title of this novel is deliberately left incomplete. The title is part of a slang saying: “fresh flowers on cow dung.” Chen Cun is witty to purposely omit two words—cow dung: though an unpleasant image, it is a day-to-day occurrence in human life.

Chen Cun’s avant-garde spirit continues to shine with the appearance of the Internet as a medium of literary writing in the late 1990s. In September 1999, he set up the website “Rongshu Xia” (Beneath the Banyan Tree) devoted to literary writing (, with the intention to bring about new writing beyond mainstream publishing. He collected 21 essays from the site in Words and Expressions in the Wind (Feng yan feng yu, 风言风语, 2000).7 In 1999, Chen Cun became the artistic director of the website and, in 2004, he took up the directorship of the “99 Book Readers,” as well as its overall artistic design.8 He organized Internet writing contests, which captured wide attention. Hence, he was referred to as the “godfather of web literature” in China, though he was quite reluctant to accept this title. His idea of web literature—that is, using the freedom of the Internet to publish truly authentic literature, and to escape the “scissors” of the tailor–editor—did not turn out quite the way he had wanted. He remarked that the best years of Internet literature have passed. Yet, with the endless possibilities of the Internet, it is hard to predict what Chen Cun will be able to do in cyberspace.

Notes 1. For a discussion on Chen Cun’s role in Chinese Internet literature, see Michael Hockx, Internet Literature in China. New York: Columbia University Press, 2015, pp. 59–84. 2. See interview with Chen Cun, in Laifong Leung, Morning Sun: Interviews with Chinese Writers of the Lost Generation. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1994, pp. 3–13. 3. Ibid., p. 9. 4. Published in Chen Cun, Wuding shang de jiaobu 屋 顶 上 的 脚 步 (Steps on the Roof). Wuhan: Changjiang wenyi chubanshe, 1992, pp. 243–260. 5. Hu Linghong (胡凌虹), “Wantong Chen Cun: dang yige chengshi de xiezuo zhe” (顽童陈村:当一个诚实的 写作者, Naughty Boy Chen Cun: To be an Honest Writer), Shanghai Caifeng (上 海 采 风 ), 8, 2011, pp. 43–46. 6. Published in Chen Cun, Wuding shang de jiaobu (Steps on the Roof), pp. 215–232. 7. Feng yan feng yu (风言风语, Words and Expressions in the Wind). Changsha, China: Yuelu shushe chubanshe, 2000. 8. “Wangluo shidai de ‘cunzai yu xuwu’—zhuanfang Chen Cun” (网 络 时 代 的 ‘存 在 与 虚 无 ’: 专 访 陈 村 , ‘Existence and Void’ in the Age of Internet—an Interview with Chen Cun), Shehui Guancha (社会 观察), 11 (2006): 38–40.


Translations into English “A Story” (trans. Robert Joe Cutter), in Joseph S.M. Lau and Howard Goldblatt (eds.), The Columbia Anthology of Modern Chinese Literature. New York: Columbia University Press, Modern Asian Literature Series, 1995, pp. 399–415. “Footsteps on the Roof” (trans. Hu Ying), in Howard Goldblatt (ed.), Chairman Mao Would Not Be Amused: Fiction from Today’s China. New York: Grove Press, 1995, pp. 244–261. The Elephant (trans. Yawtsong Lee). New York: Better Link Press, 2010.

CHEN JIANGONG (陈建功, B. 1949) From the Coal Mine to the Beijing Alleys Chen Jiangong emerged early on the post-Mao literary scene with two distinctly different styles rarely found in one writer. In stories about the frustrations and aspirations of urban intellectuals in the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution, he tends to write in a serious tone, with psychological realism. In stories about coal miners and folks in Beijing alleys, he adopts black humor and a detached angle to convey a social and cultural critique. These latter tales of “Beijing flavor” (jingwei, 京味) made him a representative writer of the “Beijing School,” along with writers such as Deng Youmei (邓友梅) and Wang Zengqi (汪曾 祺 ). Though with a different orientation, his playful tone and Beijing-flavored rhetoric paved the way for Wang Shuo (王朔). Chen Jiangong was born in Beihai (北海 ), Guangxi Province, into an intellectual family. When he was seven years old, he moved to Beijing to join his father, who was an instructor at the People’s University. During an “open your heart to the party” campaign, his father had honestly told the local leadership about his friendship with someone who had connection with the Nationalists, without knowing that it would bring disaster to the family. Because of this, Chen Jiangong suffered political discrimination throughout his schooling. After graduation from the middle school attached to the People’s University, Chen Jiangong was sent to work in the West Beijing Mucheng Jian Mines (京西木城涧煤矿). He worked underground for five years. After recovering from an accident, he was sent to do sand sifting for

another five years. When the university system resumed in 1977, he was accepted into Beijing University. He became a professional writer in 1981. During his ten years in the coal mine, Chen Jiangong kept his habit of reading whatever he could get hold off. His mother, a middle-school teacher who also looked after the library books, secretly got the books for him. In the mines, Chen Jiangong exchanged letters with his friends about the Cultural Revolution and the future of China. Their letters, put together under the title “Collected Letters” (Tongxinji, 通信集 ), were discovered by the local leadership. What made his situation worse was that one time, after work, he recited the lines “The sun is out, darkness is gone, but the sun is not ours, we have to go to sleep” from Cao Yu’s (曹禺, 1910–1996) play Sunrise (Richu, 日出, 1935), and someone heard it and reported him to the leadership. In addition, he happened to tell a so-called “class enemy” about the location of a certain government office. For all this, Chen Jiangong was accused of “blackening the image of the red sun,” “propagating reactionary ideas,” and “inciting class enemies to rebel.” Absurdly, while Chen Jiangong was under criticism, he was asked by a cadre to draft a summary of a propaganda document for the workers. As if this were not enough, he was also asked to write a speech for a model worker to read to a big audience, and that speech was even published under that person’s name!1 During the early 1970s, Chen Jiangong published several poems and stories according to the dictates of the party. He was one of the few writers who confessed about their writings during the Cultural Revolution. One time, he was recommended, as a “worker, peasant, soldier student” (gong-nong-bing xuesheng, 工农兵学生), to attend Nanjing University, but the quota was taken by another person at the last minute. He was very angry and frustrated. Yet, Chen Jianong wrote a poem (“Happy Send-off” [Huansong, 欢 送 ], Beijing wenyi, 2, 1973) to eulogize the so-called new revolutionary phenomenon of “worker, peasant, soldier student” going to university. Many years later, Chen Jiangong said, “I was being oppressed by the era, and yet I eulogized that era. This was not only my tragedy; this was also the most tragic phenomenon among Chinese writers.” He also acknowledged that it was a manifestation of the loss of one’s independent personality (p. 21).2 Chen Jiangong’s reflection


shows how Chinese writers internalized selfimposed censorship under oppressive rule. After Mao’s death, Chen Jiangong started anew with the stories that expressed his long-suppressed feelings and thoughts. Throughout the 1980s, he portrayed characters from drastically different backgrounds, such as urban youths, coal miners, and Beijing folk in the alleys. In two distinct styles, Chen Jiangong created the fictional worlds that embody his experiences and explorations.

Urban Youths: Aspirations, frustrations, cynicism “The Tears of Caltrops” (Xuancao de yanlei, 萱 草的眼泪, Huacheng, 2, 1979) is probably the story that Chen Jiangong was most eager to write after Mao because of the political discrimination he suffered. It is among the first in the post-Mao era to criticize the division of people into classes and the systematic political discrimination against those from unfavorable classes. Two Zhiqing of different class backgrounds, in Inner Mongolia, are planning to get married. Ironically, the main concern of the narrative is not the happy occasion, but the male protagonist Ding Qi’s (丁琦) dilemma about whether to tell Li Lu (黎露), the brideto-be from a “bad” class background, about his mother’s objection and that she is coming by train to stop them. Li Lu, heartbroken after learning the truth, wanders in the wilderness and is killed after pulling a horse away from a railway track. That Ding Qi’s mother was on that train is a significant coincidence. It adds the sense of guilt to the mother. Li Lu’s death, though contrived, is a silent protest against the unjust social system. In the novella “The Winding River” (Liushui wanwan, 流水弯弯, Huacheng, 3, 1979), Chen Jiangong reflects upon the idealism and disillusionment of the Red Guard generation. In 1979, when the Red Guards were generally viewed as ignorant and violent, Chen Jiangong was the first to present a different image of the Red Guards. The male protagonist Zhong Qi (钟奇) and his girlfriend (the first-person narrator) asked to go to make revolution in a remote hilly village where they, along with some friends, built a “Red Guard Commune.” Their idealism soon proved to be unworkable, and the group dispersed. The narrative begins six years later, with the first-person female protagonist, now unhappily married to a high-ranking cadre’s son, recalling her past with the protagonist. The flashback shows that she had

given him a book with her love letter in it, but never heard from him (a contrived but important detail). This contrived detail weakens the story. The tragic irony of the Red Guards comes to the fore through their reunion. When she finally meets Zhong Qi, his original revolutionary spirit is totally gone, and he has become a cynical, dispirited drunkard. Chen Jiangong was among those lucky ones who received a college education after the party state had closed the universities for ten years. Students of diverse backgrounds, and even 12 years apart in age, came to study in one classroom. The campaign to liberate thinking (a euphemism for abandoning Maoism) while energizing youths in various directions also brought perplexity and confusion. Chen Jiangong portrays the moods and minds of youths at this juncture of Chinese history. His short story “The Fluttering Flowered Scarf” (Piaoshi de huatoujin, 飘逝的花头巾, Beijing wenxue, 6, 1981) deals with the fates of two young people from different backgrounds. The male protagonist Qin Jiang (秦江), originally from an official’s family, rebels against his father and goes to work as a sailor on a ship travelling along the Yangtze River. There, he encounters a diligent girl with a scarf (a symbol of youth and beauty) from a small town. Later, they both end up in the same university after the Cultural Revolution. The author uses the story-within-a-story structure to generate the plot. The narrative opens with Qin Jiang, now a winner of a story contest, telling another writer in the same room, at night, about the degeneration of the girl, who, in order to climb up the social ladder, has given up her principles to become the playmate of a high-ranking officer’s son. Although it is a lament about the fall of an angel, it is also a critique of the lack of social mobility for the disadvantaged. The story won a Best National Short Stories award in 1981. In similar vein, Chen Jiangong depicts the gloomy mood and cynicism of Chinese youth in the aftermath of the Maoist rule, as in “The Enchanting Starry Sky” (Miluan de xingkong, 迷 乱的星空, Shanghai wenxue, 9, 1980) and “The Broken Rays” (Gei rousui de yangguang, 给揉碎 的阳光, Xiaoshuojie, 1, 1981).

Coal Miners, Young Rebels, and Old Residents in the Alleys However, Chen Jiangong’s literary reputation rests on his stories under the general title “Random


Talks” (tian tian shuo di, 谈天说地), which include eight novellas characteristically replete with subversive black humor and satire infused with a profound social, political, and cultural critique. Chen Jiangong’s first known story, “Phoenix Eyes” (Danfeng yan, 丹凤眼, Beijing wenyi, 6, 1980), is, on the surface, a cheerful story about courtship, but underneath it contains the perpetual problem of social prejudices against coal miners, as manifested in their difficulty in getting a wife. The author makes use of coincidence and misunderstanding to generate the movement of the plot. When the main characters, Xin Xiaoliang (辛小亮) and Meng Bei (孟蓓), finally realize they are the ones to be introduced to each other by the go-betweens, the seed of love has already been sown. Chen Jiangong’s fluent use of the language pertaining to the coal miners and his profound understanding of their mentality bring the characters to life. Chen Jiangong’s fluent use of Beijing dialects and his satirical technique are shown in his subversive novella “Curly Locks” (Quanmao, 鬈毛 , Shiyue, 3, 1986). It is told by a rebellious 20-yearold youth with curly hair, the son of a chief editor (an official position) of a newspaper and a former dramatist. He has failed his university entrance exam. In a cynical tone similar to Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, the narrative unveils how society is contaminated by dogmatic, hypocritical, and corrupt practices, one after another. Ironically, most of these practices are happening in his home and among his friends. Through truthful details, Chen Jiangong has captured the cynicism prevalent among those marginalized youth in the changing Chinese society. Chen Jiangong has a strong interest in old Beijing. This is shown clearly in his seeking out and interviewing older street artists and people who made their living with special skills. In his essay collection Tell the Truth (Rushi zhaolai, 从实招来, 1992), he included six essays about the defunct professions and their street activities, such as beggars who sang songs, the social commentators who attracted crowds, the hair-cutters, the leftover-food collectors, and so on. These peculiar people would become key characters in his Beijing tales. Chen Jiangong’s novella “Number 9 of Luluba Alley” (Luluba hutong 9 hao, 辘轳把梧桐 9号 , Beijing Wenxue, 10, 1981) is a vivid portrayal of people sharing a “Siheyuan” (四合院, four-part compound) in Beijing alleys. The five families living in this Siheyuan compound represent five

different backgrounds, which, in Maoist terms, means different classes. The key persons include a retired worker, a widow, a Manchu couple, a writer, a teacher, and a factory-worker couple. Chen Jiangong vividly depicts the interactions among these folk, each with their own selfish considerations. The key character Han, the retired worker, who throughout the years has been selfstyled as a devoted supporter of the party, is used to generate the plot of the narrative. Spreading news about political campaigns and stirring up fear among his neighbors have made him proud and given him power. His downfall comes when he falls behind the times. Apart from using Beijing dialects effectively to enhance characterization, there is a serious critical agenda behind the seemingly lighthearted narration. Chen Jiangong ‘s novella “Looking for Fun” (Zhao le, 找乐, Zhongshan, 5, 1984) brought him international fame after it was made into a film and won many Chinese and international awards. The story embodies Chen Jiangong’s genuine interest in two interrelated themes of old Beijing: old folk in Beijing alleys and the retention of traditional culture. The narrative is tied together by the retired but still energetic protagonist Li Zhongxiang (李忠祥), who had worked as a coffin carrier in the Republican period. Through him, several others, such as a collector of left-over food and a former Rightist, all come daily to sing and perform Peking opera. The threat of old culture and art is shown in the negative attitude of Li Zhongxiang’s son, who, in order to please his girlfriend, tries to prevent him from going to the local culture center. In the novella “Letting Go” (Fangsheng, 放生),3 Chen Jiangong adopts a metafictional technique and mixes fiction with essay. The narrator is Chen Jiangong himself, and he even mentions his earlier works, the names of friends such as Zhao Danian (赵大年), and his recent activities, thus creating immediacy. The story is simple, yet profound. It revolves around the old Mr Shen (沈大爷), who is retired and takes pleasure in his caged bird, which can imitate many sounds. The problem he faces is that now living on the16th floor, he cannot always enjoy taking the bird out. When the elevator is out of order for days, he is basically locked in. The idea of letting the bird go then dawns on him when he realizes the lack of freedom. But he is afraid it will die when let go in the jungle of buildings. Toward the end, he takes a taxi to Fragrant Mountain at the extreme west of Beijing to let it go. This seemingly simple tale actually contains a subtle critique


of ecological issues, which, as is later shown, become an impending problem. In Criminal Record (Qianke, 前科, 1993),4 Chen Jiangong goes further in his subversive metafictional technique by including himself as a key figure in the absurd participation in the police in a campaign against crimes. In 1995, Chen Jiangong was assigned the position of vice-secretary of the Chinese Writers’ Association, which, although giving him the opportunity to help his fellow writers and promote contemporary Chinese literature, has taken his time away from writing. He has written mainly essays, and sometimes TV scripts. His only novel, At the Root of the Emperor’s City (Huangchenggen, 皇城根, 1992), was the result of a collaboration with writer Zhao Danian, based on their TV script. He has retired from the directorship of the Museum of Modern Chinese Literature and other duties. Currently, he is working on a long novel.

Notes 1. Chen Jiangong, Congshi zhaolai (从实招来, Tell the Truth). Guangzhou: Guangdong lüyou chubanshe, 1992, pp. 63–101. 2. See Laifong Leung, Morning Sun: Interviews with Chinese Writers of the Lost Generation. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1994, pp. 14–29. 3. Published in Chen Jiangong, Qianke (前科, Criminal Record). Beijing: Huayi chubanshe, 1993, pp. 108–183. 4. Ibid., pp. 270–343.

Translations into English “Phoenix Eyes” (trans. Ellen Hertz), in Prize-Winning Stories from China 1980–1981. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1985, pp. 163–185. “The Fluttering Flowered Scarf” (trans. by Li Meiyu), ibid., pp. 186–213. “Curly Locks”, Chinese Literature, Summer (1988): 47–128. “Looking for Fun” (ed. and trans. Jeanne Tai), in Spring Bamboo: A Collection of Contemporary Chinese Short Stories. New York: Random House, 1989, pp. 57–118.

CHEN RAN (陈染, B. 1962) A Sensitive Feminist As a writer who grew up during the Cultural Revolution and witnessed the great changes that

occurred in China after Mao’s death, Chen Ran was conscious of the damaging effects of the collective discourse on the expression of the self, especially the female self. Her concentration on writing from a woman’s gendered perspective hence challenges, not only the grand narrative, but also the male-dominated status quo. She has been identified with the trend of “private writing” (siren xiezuo, 私人写作), which characteristically expresses the female’s private self. Chen Ran had an unhappy childhood. Her parents were intellectuals who were divorced when she was in middle school. This painful part of her life became an important source for her writing. The image of a broken family, with a tyrannical father, a quiet, victimized mother, and an eccentric and sensitive daughter, would recur in her stories. Chen Ran attended Beijing Normal University from 1982 to 1986. Some of her early poems were collected in an anthology for young poets. After graduating from university, she taught creative writing for four and a half years in Beijing Normal University, before she resigned from it to devote herself to writing. By 1996, she had published a four-volume collection and, by 2001, a six-volume collection. She had been invited to give lectures in several universities in such countries as Britain, the United States, Australia, and Germany.

Early Writing: Restless youths and fantastic tales Chen Ran began writing fiction during her third year at university, at the age of 23. Her first published short story was “Hey, Don’t Be Discouraged” (Huh, bie name sangqi, 嚇, 别那么 丧气, Qingnian wenxue, 11, 1985), which deals with the restlessness and frustration of college students. It resonates with Liu Suola’s (刘索拉) landmark modernist work “You Have No Choice” (Ni biewu xuanze, 你别无选择, Renmin wenxue, 3, 1985), which appeared earlier in the same year. Chen Ran’s story “Illness of the Century” (Shiji bing, 世纪病, completed in March 1986)1 is told by a rebellious college woman whose boyfriend, Shanzi (山 子 ), dies while escaping into the mountains after having been wrongly accused of rape by his mentally ill sister. Senses of loss and decay converge at the end with the discovery of Shanzi’s body. The short story “Disappearing in a Valley” (Xiaoshi zai yegu, 消失在野谷, completed in July 1986)2 foreshadows


Chen Ran’s writing of sensitive, antisocial female characters, and the motif of death. The main body of the narrative comprises the fragmentary recollections of a young woman who has committed suicide in a valley. They fluctuate between her hatred of the father who divorced the mother, and her unsteady relationship with her painter lover, H. The surprising twist at the end is that all this was a dream, and, after waking up, she attains a higher level of awareness in love. In the mid-1980s, Chen Ran began to experiment with magic realism in her “Small Town Series” (Xiaozhen xilie, 小镇系列), which was inspired by the shocking, primitive conditions she witnessed during a university fieldtrip. Chen Ran acknowledged the influence of magic realism in the construction of this series, which contains strange characters in mysterious settings. It is through these stories that Chen Ran’s talent first gained attention. The allegorical short story “Paper Girl” (Zhipianr, 纸片儿, completed in summer 1987)3 in this series typifies such an influence. The narrative is set in an old town, where fantastic characters live in an eerie atmosphere. The grandfather, who represents dominant male power, has mobilized the cats to destroy the mice that overrun the town. Paper Girl is mute until she meets her beloved Wuke (乌克), a one-legged blacksmith. Her only happiness is taken away when grandfather, disapproving of their relationship, leads the cats to kill Wuke. As if for revenge, one night, the long-suppressed mice mysteriously return to kill the cats and the grandfather. This fantastic story marks Chen Ran’s moving in the direction of gendered writing, while at the same time being subversive in the context of male oppression.

Private Writing: Female’s Bildungsroman and beyond In the early 1990s, Chen Ran had made her name with her female-centered works and striking imagery. These works depart drastically from male-dominated writings (which also include female writers’ works), in that Chen Ran writes from the perspective of the first-person female protagonist, through concentrated depictions of experiences of the female body, such as menstruation, first sexual experience, lesbian relationship, sisterhood, and mother–daughter relationship. Her male characters tend to be portrayed in a negative light, as a violent father, an authorita-

tive but seductive teacher, a physician, and a dentist. Those who appear as boyfriends are unreliable, appearing and disappearing like shadows. Many of Chen Ran’s characters have unusual names, such as “Dai Er” (黛二, number 2), “Miao Yi” (缪一, Miao number), and “Mai San” (麦三, Mai number 3), and some of her unconventional story titles defy translation, such as “Standing at the Mouth of Wind” (Zhan zai wuren de fengkou, 站 在 无 人 的 风 口 ), “The Girl Shaman and the Door in Her Dream” (Wunü yu ta de mengzhong zhi men, 巫女与她的梦中之门 ), “All the Walls Are Doors” (Fan qiang doushi men, 凡墙都是门), and “A Bald Woman Cannot Come Out of September” (Tutou nü zou buchu de niuyue, 秃头女走不出的九月). These striking names give Chen Ran’s fiction an impression of mystery and defiance. Chen Ran has a contradictory attitude toward the father figure, as she says, “A person’s Oedipus Complex and Electra Complex are not in contradiction at all, just like love and hatred can happen at the same time” (p. 241).4 She also says, through her female character: I love dearly the kind of man who has the brain and ability to “protect” me; this has been the most fatal shortcoming in my life. I just want to have a father who loves me. He should share my thoughts about human kind. I would only be his extension except for the sex difference, and I would carry on his thoughts. (p. 427)5 This contradiction is exemplified in Chen Ran’s Bildungsroman “Toast to the Past” (Yu wangshi ganbei, 与往事干杯, Zhongshan, 5, 1991), which is framed as a confiding personal account between the narrator Xiao Meng (萧濛) and her girlfriend Qiao Lin (乔林). However, the main text is the pain of Xiao Meng and her mother, inflicted by men. The father is portrayed as a tyrant and the main source of Xiao Meng’s (and her mother’s) misery. After her parents’ divorce, 15-year-old Xiao Meng and her mother move to an abandoned storage facility that was originally a nunnery during the Republican period. Xiao Meng is soon seduced by their neighbor, a physician, who can be seen as a negative surrogate father. Chen Ran’s characteristic pessimism and fatalism permeate the narrative. Years later, Xiao Meng falls in love with Laoba (老巴), an ethnic Chinese student from


Australia who (this is a bit contrived) turns out to be the physician’s son who had been taken abroad by the grandfather. Unable to face the situation, Xiao Meng leaves him and returns to China. Laoba’s death in a car accident deepens her sense of guilt. Chen Ran’s negative portrayal of the male is further stressed in Xiao Meng’s two chance encounters with the father and the physician, both of whom have physically aged beyond recognition. The female narrator Dai Er (黛二), or her variants, recurs in Chen Ran’s fiction. The naming of Dai Er (number two, Lin Daiyu, 林黛玉) resonates with the sensitive, talented, and fragile heroine Lin Daiyu in the classic novel Dream of the Red Chamber. Through Dai Er and her variants, Chen Ran explores the female experiences. In the short story “Sunshine on the Lips” (Zuichun li de yangguang, 嘴唇里的阳光), Chen Ran depicts sevenyear-old Dai Er’s first exposure to the genitals of her middle-aged neighbor, who turns out to be an exhibitionist. She continues to be haunted by this traumatic experience, as shown in her hysterical reaction to a dentist’s needle and her resistance to her boyfriend’s request for physical intimacy. The complexities of sisterhood between women are explored in “Nowhere to Bid Farewell” (Wuchu gaobie, 无处告别, Xiaoshuojia, 1, 1992). Dai Er and two other women, Miao Yi (缪一), and Mai San (麦三) are as close as sisters. After the latter two find male companions, their sisterhood falls apart. The narrative centers upon Dai Er’s solitary life in the urban setting. She develops a strong desire to escape, and one way to do so is to become narcissistic, as manifested in her obsessive action of viewing herself in the mirror. A striking death motif is shown toward the end of the narrative, as Dai Er imagines that, years later, people will find her hanging from a tree in the woods. Chen Ran’s 1996 novel Private Life (Siren shenghuo, 私人生活) can be seen as the culmination of her writing. This is one of the few works that touch upon the Tian’anmen Massacre on June 4, 1989. Actually, it is not just about the private life of the first-person narrator Ni Aoao (倪拗拗, whose personal name, meaning disobedient, suggests incongruousness with society); on the contrary, it is about a female’s post-trauma syndrome caused by the event. Thanks to censorship, Chen Ran leaves out any details, such as time, place, and the sociopolitical circumstances, but mentions a bullet wound. Her making love with

her boyfriend Yin Nan (尹楠) in a storage area, before his abrupt departure for Europe, implies his involvement in the event. Private Life is also a chronicle of a female’s process of maturing. As with Chen Ran’s other female protagonists, Ni Aoao’s father is portrayed as abusive and distant. She is seduced by her middle-aged teacher. She has never really loved any man, definitely not the teacher, nor Yin Nan, who has left for Europe. The novel touches upon lesbianism through Ni Aoao’s growing attachment to her neighbor, Widow Ho, since her teens. The death of the widow in a fire accident signifies an abrupt end to her lesbian desire. Ni Aoao’s love–hate relationship with her mother is suffocating, until the latter’s death. Ni Aoao retreats into herself and develops psychological problems, which are later cured by a well-known physician, a father-like authority from which she can never escape. In the novella “Break Open” (Pokai, 破开, Huacheng, 5, 1995), Chen Ran expresses the idea that love transcends gender. Though Dai Er lives in the north, and her girlfriend Yunnan (殒南) lives in a southern city, they correspond with each other and share intimate thoughts and feelings. They plan to establish a women’s association that does not flaunt the banners of “female power-ism” or “feminism,” but instead stresses equality between the sexes. It aims to transcend sex in order to overthrow the male-dominated norms, values, and rules of life. Chen Ran’s intensely psychological style and restless images began to relax in the late 1990, as shown in her stories concerning divorce (a reflection of her own situation). For instance, in the short story “A Divorced Person” (Liyi de ren, 离 异的人, Huacheng, 4, 2003), the divorced firstperson narrator has maintained contact with her former husband on the phone, though nothing can revive their old feelings. The rhythm of the narrative picks up when he tells her that his mother is coming to town for a visit and he has not told her about the divorce. In order not to disappoint his mother, the narrator numbly goes along with the charade only to fulfill her moral obligation. Though Chen Ran’s works have been sensationalized by publishers, she refuses to be identified by the label of “beauty writers” (meinü zuojia, 美 女 作 家 , for instance, Hui Wei, 慧 卫 , and Mianmian, 绵绵 ), who have had commercial success with their “writing with the lower part of


the body” (xia banshen xiezuo, 下半身写作) novels. To refute those critics who question her narrow scope and self-absorption in her writing, Chen Ran explains using four points. First, personal (private) writing does not mean that she is writing only about herself; second, personal writing does not mean its scope is narrow, because, though “small,” it digs into “big” issues concerning human beings; third, personal writing is necessary in society; and fourth, fiction begins with the writing of an individual.6 Chen Ran is not a conventional story writer per se. If one were seeking a quick, entertaining read, one would not find it in Chen Ran. She is an exquisite writer of the elite category, carrying on the tradition of Ding Ling’s (1904–1986) “Diaries of Miss Sophie” (Shafei nüshi de riji, 莎菲女士的日 记, 1928), and has gone a long way in her feminist quest. When placed in the history of 20thcentury Chinese literature, Chen Ran has made a great contribution to the development of Chinese women’s writing. Chen Ran certainly departs from those female writers who write in the vein of male discourse. She has single-handedly built her fictional world, in which the body and soul of women can be laid bare. She also writes essays, most of which are of a personal nature. It would be interesting to speculate how far Chen Ran can go from here to maintain her vigor, given the narrow subject matter of her choice. One also would hope that she will expand her topics outside her private space.

Notes 1. In Chen Ran zuopin zixuan ji (陈染作品自选集 1, Selfselected Works by Chen Ran), vol. 1. Beijing: Guangming ribao chubanshe, 1996, pp. 1–19. 2. Ibid., pp. 53–71. 3. Ibid., pp. 85–100. 4. Huang Lin (荒林 ), “Wenben neiwai: Chen Ran fangtan” (文本内外:陈染访谈, Inside and Outside of the Text: Interview with Chen Ran), in Chen Juntao (ed.), Jingshen zhilu: Dangdai zuojia fangwen lu (精 神之旅:当代作家访问录, Spiritual Journey: Interviews with Contemporary Writers). Nanning: Guangxi Shifan Daxue chubanshe, 2004, pp. 238–250. 5. Chen Ran and Xiao Gang (萧钢), “Ling yishan kaiqi de men” (另一扇开启的门, Another Open Door), Chen Ran zuopin zixuanji (陈染作品自选集 2, Self-selected Works by Chen Ran), vol. 2. Beijing: Guangming ribao chubanshe, 1996, pp. 413–440. 6. Chen Ran, “Chen Ran zishu” (陈染自述, Self-narration by Chen Ran), in Xiaoshuo pinglun (小说评论), 5, 2005: 35–37.

Translations into English “Sunshine between the Lips” (trans. Shelley Wing Chan), in Howard Goldblatt (ed.), Chairman Mao Would Not Be Amused: Fiction from Today’s China. New York: Grove Press, 1995, pp. 112–129. “Breaking Open” (trans. Paola Zamperini), in Patricia Sieber (ed.), Red Is Not the Only Color: Contemporary Chinese Fiction on Love and Sex between Women, Collected Stories. Lanham, MD, Boulder, CO: Rowman & Littlefield, 2001, pp. 49–71. A Private Life (trans. John Howard-Gibbon). New York: Columbia University Press, 2004.

CHEN ZHONGSHI (陈忠实, B. 1942–2016) Constructing the White Deer Plain Chen Zhongshi’s first story appeared in 1973; however, he did not become widely known until 1993, with the publication of his highly acclaimed long novel White Deer Plain (Bailu Yuan, 白鹿原). Warmly received by readers and critics, the novel was adapted for a variety of performing-art forms, including radio plays, Qinqiang (秦腔, an opera form in Shaanxi Province 陕西), a film directed by Wang Quanan (王全安, 2012) and a television series (2015). The energy generated by this novel, along with Jia Pingwa’s (贾平凹) controversial novel Defunct City (Feidu, 废都, 1993), gave rise to the militarily named phenomenon “Shaanxi Army Conquering East [China]” (Shaanjun dongzheng, 陕军东征), which implies that Shaanxi writers in China’s “Wild West” were spreading their influence eastward. With the success of White Deer Plain, Chen Zhongshi began receiving invitations to visit many countries. The novel White Deer Plain has been translated into Japanese. Chen Zhongshi was born into a poor peasant family in a village near Baling (灞陵), on the outskirts of the ancient capital Xi’an, Shaanxi Province. His father grew poplar trees and corn for a living. After completing elementary school in the local township, Chen Zhongshi attended junior middle school in Baling, which is 30 li from home. He walked home every weekend and, before returning to school each week, he had to face the difficult moment of asking his father for an allowance for the following week. When he was 14, his father was unable to support him in school.


He was forced to take one year of absence from school and wait until after his elder brother had been accepted by a normal college (which provides free tuition, room, and board). This one year of absence cost Chen Zhongshi dearly. When he eventually resumed his education, he was unable to enter university because of the poor economic conditions caused by the Great Famine. After middle school in 1962, he taught elementary school, worked for five years on construction sites, and then became a staff member in the culture office (wenhua guan, 文化馆) in Baling. He lost an opportunity to attend university, but he gained social experiences, which would later form the basis of his writing. After repeated rejections, Chen Zhongshi’s first story “After Taking over the Job” (Jieban yihou, 接班以后, 1973) appeared in Shaanxi Literature and Art (Shaanxi wenyi, 陕西文艺). This was followed by “The Gao Brothers” (Gao jia xiongdi, 高 家 兄 弟 , 1974) and “Commune Secretary” (Gongshe shuji, 公社书记, 1975). All these works were formulaic illustrations of class struggle as dictated by the party line.

Writing the New Rural Reality After Mao’s death, like many writers who had previously published works following the party line, Chen Zhongshi went through a period of psychological adjustment—regret, embarrassment, and guilt. Following a period of reflection and intense reading of works by many foreign writers that now became available in Chinese translation—Chekhov, Guy de Maupassant, Balzac, Gabriel García Márquez—he had a different view of literature. He produced many stories focusing on the plight of Chinese peasants under Mao and the challenges under Deng Xiaoping’s reform. Meanwhile, he developed a strong interest in local gazetteers, which expanded his cultural horizon. His 1978 short story “South North Village” (Nanbei Zhai, 南北寨 , completed in October 1978)1 was among the earliest to reveal the negative side of rural policies. The leading cadres in North Village put their energy into political shows in order to impress their superiors, at the expense of the well-being of the commune members. By contrast, the affluent South Village, managed by more humane and pragmatic cadres, gave people’s livelihood top priority. Chen Zhongshi showed his courage in tackling the negative side of the People’s Commune System.

Chen Zhongshi gained literary attention with the short story “Trust” (Xinren, 信任), which won a National Best Short Stories award (1977–1978). It initially appeared in Shaanxi Daily and was spotted by an editor and republished in the prestigious People’s Literature (Renmin wenxue, 7, 1979. The story is a sharp critique of excessive political campaigns that had damaged human relations. During the Four-Cleanups Movement in 1964, the protagonist Luo Kun (罗坤) was labeled a landlord by Luo Mengtian (罗蒙田), director of the Poor Peasants Association, and suffered more than a decade of political persecution. After Mao’s death, Luo Kun was rehabilitated and even elected as party branch secretary. The story begins with Luo Kun’s son injuring Luo Mengtian’s son in a fight over revenge. In order to stop the vicious cycle of revenge, the protagonist goes out of his way to take care of the injured youth at the hospital. With his moving kindness and warm speech to the villagers calling for mutual respect and forgiveness, trust is finally rebuilt, not only between the two families, but also in the oncedivided community. Though the central characters are not fully developed, the subject matter is timely, and the language is vivid with local flavor. From 1980 to 1982, when working in the cultural office in Baling, Chen Zhongshi had the chance to witness and participate in meetings concerning the implementation of the Agricultural Responsibility System. Based on his experience, Chen Zhongshi depicts the painful process of change in the peasantry. For instance, the new system of providing incentives to work obviously upsets those comfortable with the old iron rice bowl system and human relationships. In “The First Knife” (Di yi dao, 第一刀),2 Baozi (豹子), a young team leader taking charge of making changes to work assignments, is caught in a dilemma: to dismiss his Second Uncle, who is a lazy worker, would disturb family harmony, but to keep him would cause damage to the overall reform plan. His dilemma is deepened when his father, a party branch secretary resistant to reform, also speaks up for Second Uncle. Baozi’s “first knife” hence has to begin with his family, and it is not easy. Chen Zhongshi explores the pain in those cadres involved in the rural reform. In “Vexation” (Kunao, 苦恼, Renmin wenxue, 1, 1981), party branch secretary Huang Jianguo (黄建国, literally “Building the Nation”) is puzzled that what he has for decades regarded as a sacred duty, to restrict private transactions, is now seen as hindering


economic reform. Yet, he realizes painfully that, no matter how much energy he puts into his work, the People’s Commune remains poor, and he has lost the commune members’ support. To counter this negative attitude, Chen Zhongshi creates the positive character Liang Zhihua (梁志 华, literally “Ambitious China”), a party branch secretary of another commune, who quickly adapts himself to the new situation and, in no time, has improved the living standards of his commune and gains respect from its members. A similar theme is also dealt with in Chen Zhongshi’s 1984 novella “Early Summer” (Chuxia, 初夏).3 “Pearl” (Zhenzhu, 珍珠)4 is a better story about social injustice at the rural level. The young village woman Pearl is a talented singer. But, because she refuses to marry the son of the party secretary, she loses her chance to join the Shaanxi Opera Troupe. The story is told by Pearl’s teacher, who recalls her talent in flashbacks. Years later, when they meet again, Pearl has been singing funeral songs for a living. Although her voice is still beautiful, her spirit is gone forever. The image of the lost talent echoes the Chinese proverb “a pearl lost in the sea” (canghai yizhu, 沧海遗珠).

Combining Folklore and Confucian Culture After the mid-1980s, Chen Zhongshi began to blend local culture with contemporary reality in his fiction. Two of his novellas typify such a significant shift. “Fourth Sister” (Simeizi, 四妹子, Xiandairen, 3, 1987) concerns a new female image of rural origin, with an independent mind and entrepreneur spirit. The narrative fuses her adventure in southern Shaanxi District with detailed depictions of colorful local marriage customs, from the food and rituals of the first meeting to the engagement, the dowry preparation, the wedding ceremony proper, and the return home two days after the wedding. Also engaging is Chen Zhongshi’s depiction of Fourth Sister’s desire to realize her potential and the obstacles she faces, especially the opposition from her husband’s conservative family. Empowered by the reform policy, Fourth Sister becomes the first entrepreneur to open a chicken farm. After the chicken farm closes down, she grows fruit trees on a hill. Whereas, in Maoist fiction, the energetic female model peasants/workers do not have any selfinterest, Chen Zhongshi’s Fourth Sister is an image of a successful woman entrepreneur.

In the novella “Mr Blue Gown” (Lanpao xiansheng, 蓝 袍 先 生 , completed in 1985),5 Chen Zhongshi traces the fate of an upright rural gentleman, from the Republican period to the Maoist period. Mr Blue Gown grows up in a conventional family, but, after one year of training in a normal school in town, he is transformed. He wears a Lenin-style outfit, performs in the revolutionary play The White-Haired Girl (Bai maonü, 白毛女), and becomes an activist for the communist cause. The latter part of the novella is set in the Maoist period, during which Mr Blue Gown goes through the horrible experience of being labeled a Rightist. A short-lived love relationship with a classmate remains his only sweet memory. A misfit in many ways, Mr Blue Gown epitomizes the pain of China’s path to modernity. White Deer Plain (Bailu yuan, 白鹿原, 1993) is Chen Zhongshi’s only novel, and a superb one. Conceived in 1987 and completed in 1992, the novel subverts the tradition of communist historical fiction in terms of cultural texture, characterization, and ideological orientation. It draws heavily on information from local gazetteers of Lantian County (蓝田县), Changan County (长安 县), and Xianning County (咸宁县), adding the work’s cultural breadth and depth. It concerns the Bai (白, White) and Lu (鹿, Deer) families, both descended from the same ancestors. White Deer Plain is a real site east of Xi’an, where an auspicious mythical white deer appeared during the reign of King Wen of Zhou dynasty and where the tomb of Emperor Wen of the (Former) Han dynasty (206 BC–9 AD) was located. The white deer motif recurs throughout the novel, giving it a magical and fantastic dimension. The family saga spans the first half of the 20th century. The relationship between the Bai and Lu families fluctuates: they collaborate in times of natural disaster (drought, epidemic); they compete with each other in wealth (growing opium) and in owning land with good Fengshui (geomancy); they expose each other’s secret adultery at the ancestral temple; and they work together in times of crisis (bandit invasion, Sino-Japanese War). Bai Jiaxuan (白嘉轩), the head of the White family, is a prototype of rural gentry who shows pragmatism in cutting his pigtail and opposing the custom of foot binding. His rival, Lu Zilin (鹿子霖) is a womanizer and a cunning village senior. Bai Jiaxuan and Lu Zilin form a polarity of good and evil in various shades. Despite fierce competition between the two, they adhere to social propriety


by maintaining superficial harmony. The traditional values are also embodied by two sage scholars: Mr Zhu (朱), head of the White Deer Institute, and Mr Leng (冷), a herbal doctor. They serve, not only as mentors to Bai Jiaxuan, but also as the guardians of humanitarian values (Mr Leng cares for the sick), morality (Mr Zhu orders the destruction of the opium plantation), and lofty ideals (Mr Zhu refuses an offer from a corrupt official). Through them, the author brings back the noble image of the traditional Chinese literati, who had been condemned in, if not totally obliterated from, communist literature. Compared with the complex interactions between the family heads, their descendants have to face greater challenges in the midst of China’s political uncertainty. Bai Xiaowen (白孝文), the eldest son of the Bai family, was once an opium addict, but later becomes a Nationalist official. His youngest sister, Bai Ling (白灵), a reincarnation of the white deer spirit, defies her father’s order by escaping to town to attend a Christian school, joins the communist underground, refuses to come home for more than a decade, and, ironically, dies a tragic death (she is buried alive, a suspected traitor to the CCP). Lu Zhaopeng (鹿兆鹏), the eldest son of the Lu family, becomes a headmaster of a school and later an underground communist leader. His younger brother, Lu Zhaohai (鹿兆海) —who is totally different from his vicious father— joins the Nationalist army, but is unjustly killed by it. Unlike in the revolutionary historical fiction of the 1950s and 1960s, the author gives his characters a choice—in the uncertain unfolding of history, people still have the freedom to choose. The way the two lovers, Bai Ling and Lu Zhaohai, choose their political paths is one of the ironic and, later, controversial episodes in the novel: they flip a copper coin to decide which party to join. Bai Ling gets the Nationalists, and Lu Zhaohai the Communists. Without informing each other, they each change their choice in order to be together (pp. 421–422), which ironically causes them to diverge and follow entirely different paths. Related to the symbolic coin flipping is the imagery of the griddle, which bakes one side of the cake, which is then flipped to bake the other (p. 250). The scholar Mr Zhu’s remark that White Deer Plain is like a griddle suggests the absurdity of politics, as shown in the flip-flop power struggles between the Nationalists and the Communists in modern Chinese history.

The two vibrant characters who are not members of the Bai or Lu family but function as a mirror to reflect the corrupt and stifling milieu in the White Deer Plain are Heiwa (黑娃, Darky) and his wife Tian Xiao’e (田小娥, a homonym with “little moth,” which suggests her marginal existence in the community). Heiwa is the son of Lu San (鹿三), a typical loyal servant of the Bai family. Heiwa’s inferiority complex leads to his restless desire to succeed and to take revenge (as shown symbolically in his breaking the back of Bai Jiaxuan, monarch of White Deer Plain). He works as a migrant peasant, seduces Tian Xiao’e (then concubine of a landlord), joins the bandits, and helps the communist underground, but is, ironically, executed for his banditry. His wife Tian Xiao’e represents the carefree spirit long suppressed in White Deer Plain. She and Heiwa, as outcasts in the community, embody the most genuine human vitality of all the characters in the novel. Her image bears multiple significances—she is seen as an outsider, untamed, seductive, and, above all, immoral. She is a sexual object of the males such as Bai Xiaowen (白孝文) and the licentious Lu Zilin, head of the Lu family. Her eventual murder by Lu San, Heiwa’s father, is an extreme expression of the practice of family misogyny. Since the publication of his masterpiece, White Deer Plain, Chen Zhongshi has written many essays, largely revolving around the creation process of the novel. He has also devoted time as a consultant for its many adaptations. The irony of Chen Zhongshi was that he had achieved an artistic height that he found difficult to surpass. He passed away April 29, 2016.

Notes 1. Chen Zhongshi wenji: diyi juan (陈忠实文集:第一卷 , Collected Works of Chen Zhongshi), vol. 1. Xi’an: Taibai chubanshe, 1996, pp. 3–18. 2. Ibid., pp. 191–204. 3. Published in Chen Zhongshi, Chuxia (初夏, Early Summer). Shanghai: Shanghai wenyi chubanshe, 1986, pp. 171–345. 4. Published in Chen Zhongshi duanpian xiaoshuo xuancui (陈忠实短篇小说选粹, Selected Short Stories of Chen Zhongshi), Xi’an: Xi’an chubanshe, 1993, pp. 87–98. 5. Ibid., pp. 189–308.

Translations into English “The Commune Secretary” (trans. Shen Yaoyi), Chinese Literature, 3 (1976): 18–57.


“The Luos at Loggerheads,” Chinese Literature, 8 (1980): 90–98. “Troubled,” Eastern Horizon, 20, 6, June (1981): 40–50. “Trust” (trans. Michael Crook), in Helen Siu and Zelder Stern (eds.), Mao’s Harvest: Voices from China’s New Generation. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983, pp. 146–155.

CHENG NAISHAN (程乃珊, B. 1946–2013) Nostalgia for Old Shanghai Cheng Naishan is unique among Chinese writers in several respects. She is the granddaughter of a prominent banker in Republican Shanghai and later in Hong Kong, which separates her from writers from worker, soldier, and peasant backgrounds. She majored in English at the Shanghai Normal College and is one of the very few contemporary Chinese writers competent in the language.1 She converted to Christianity in 1979, which sets her apart from most Chinese writers, who are officially atheist. Cheng Naishan’s familiarity with the lives of those from her upper-class background allows her to revive their literary images, which had been demonized during the Maoist period. She is truly a prominent, representative writer of the “Shanghai school” (haipai, 海派). Cheng Naishan was born in Shanghai. Her great-grandparents were silkworm farmers in Tongxiang (桐乡), Zhejiang Province (浙江省). Her grandfather Cheng Muhao (程慕灏, 1898–1991) went to Shanghai to learn how to do business at 16 and rose to become a leading figure in the Bank of China. Because he had helped the underground communists during the war, he was sent to head the Hong Kong branch and, after retirement, serve as a consultant.2 In 1948, Cheng Naishan moved to Hong Kong with her family. She attended the prestigious St. Mary’s Elementary School for two years but later transferred to the elementary school attached to Xiangdao Middle School (香岛中学), a left-wing school. The family moved back to Shanghai in 1956 after her fourth grade. During the Cultural Revolution, her home was ransacked several times by the Red Guards, and the family was forced to move out of their garden residence into a small flat. Her maternal grandmother died of fear, and her mother was sent to the mental hospital six times (p. 158).3 Thanks

to her Hong Kong citizen status, Cheng Naishan moved to Hong Kong in 1990 and divided her life between two cities. Her Hong Kong experience gives her a unique perspective for viewing Hong Kong and Shanghai (or, for that matter, China in general). Cheng Naishan is undoubtedly among the most westernized writers in the Chinese literary community.4 She is a cultivated Shanghai lady with high tastes; she enjoys wine, fashion, movies, music, and architecture. As a typical “haipai” (海 派)—a term referring to the hybrid attributes of “traditional, westernized, and decadent” Shanghai —she has a strong sense of mission to reconstruct the refined culture of pre-1949 Shanghai, brutally destroyed in the name of the revolution. After writing a large number of fictional works, set both in old Shanghai and post-Mao Shanghai, she turned to writing nonfiction about the manners, food, fashion, and romance of old Shanghai. It is unfortunate that her grand project was cut short by her untimely death from leukemia on April 22, 2013.

Depicting the Poor with Human Compassion Cheng Naishan’s first story “The Song Mother Taught Me” (Mama jiao chang de ge, 妈妈教唱的 歌, Shanghai wenxue, 9, 1979) is set in the period from the beginning of the Cultural Revolution to the fall of the Gang of Four in October 1976. It revolves around a motherless teenage girl neglected by her busy working father. After the fall of the Gang of Four, the daughter–father conflict is resolved when she learns that her father’s project is in aid of the Four Modernizations. For this simple story, Cheng Naishan was asked to make seven revisions and had to include a “bright-tail” ending.5 After Cheng Naishan graduated, in 1965, from the Shanghai Normal College, she was assigned to teach English in a middle school. For 20 years, every day, she had to take three buses from her upper-class district to the school, in a slum. Drawing on this experience, she wrote several stories that display her sympathy with the poor and the disadvantaged. For instance, in the simple short story “Yellow Ribbon” (Huang sidai, 红丝 带, Wenxue bao, July 15, 1982), Cheng Naishan appropriates the American song as a key image to express a good wish for the return of a girl student’s father, who had been sent to labor reform. The story convincingly traces the changes


in the teacher’s attitude, from coldness to sympathy toward the delinquent girl student. Cheng Naishan’s humanitarian predilection is further revealed in the novella “The Poor Street” (Qiong Jie, 穷街, Xiaoshuojie, 2, 1984; TV series, 1984). The narrative reveals, with verisimilitude, the poor living conditions of the students and their families through the curious eyes of the female protagonist, from a rich background. With compassion for the poor, she changes from a naive, distant observer to a sympathizer. The male colleague who initiates her into social reality is portrayed as a hero in his efforts to break the vicious cycle of poverty through education.

The Blue House: Return of the bourgeoisie and the new moral dilemmas After the death of Mao, in the late 1970s, the Chinese government adopted a policy of returning confiscated properties and monetary compensation to former owners. Thus, many previously condemned families suddenly reemerged from the ruins as a new elite. Previously despised foreign connections became valuable assets. Relatives who had previously cut off relations suddenly wanted to reestablish contact. Unforeseen opportunities suddenly arrived, bringing surprising changes to interpersonal relationships. As a member of the new elite, Cheng Naishan witnessed all these dramatic changes in fortune. In the early 1980s, Cheng Naishan captured these phenomena in her fiction. The short story “Calling” (Huhuan, 呼唤, Wenhui yuekan, 4, 1981) depicts how the return of properties to the male protagonist changes him from a diligent person to a lazy dandy. His wife leaves him and moves back to their old, small apartment. Though it is contrived, a tender love lingers when the wife mentions in a letter to him that, in case he changes his mind, he can still find the key in the old spot. Cheng Naishan questions the excessive but inappropriate help that parents give to their children, and situates this in the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution. Mr Zhou (周 先 生 ), the protagonist of “Why Parents Worry” (Fumu xin, 父母心, Zhongshan, 1, 1983) regrets that he broke off relations with his younger brother when the latter was under attack during the Cultural Revolution. For this, his eldest brother in the United States refuses to sponsor his son to go there, but instead sponsors the younger brother’s

two children. The dramatic shift in the plot occurs when Mr Zhou’s childhood friend, Mr Parker, now an American priest, reconnects with him and helps him send the son abroad. He spends all his savings on this. Ironically, his son is not a suitable candidate to go abroad. To strengthen the theme, the story contains a parallel plot line: Mr Zhou’s housemaid also spends all she has supporting her lazy, greedy son in the countryside. The novella “The Piano Tuner” (Tiaoyin, 调音, Shanghai wenxue, 2, 1983) deals with true friendship in times of turmoil. It is focalized through a piano tuner. During the Cultural Revolution, when the Red Guards seize the female protagonist’s piano and her mansion, the piano tuner provides her with a place to stay and makes a simple wooden piano for her. Cheng Naishan does not force a happy ending, but uses elapsed time to let things work out their own way. The female protagonist later marries a cellist. What reconnects her and the piano tuner are music and friendship: the musical couple give piano lessons to the piano tuner’s son, and he will continue to tune their piano. Cheng Naishan established her fame with the allegorical novella “The Blue House” (Lan wu, 蓝 屋 , Zhongshan, 4, 1983), which won the Zhongshan Literary Prize. The tale is actually based on her husband’s family, owners of the famous “Green Mansion” (built in 1938) on West Beijing Road (西北京路) and Tongren Road (铜仁 路 ) (p. 47).6 The narrative interweaves love, betrayal, and family relations under political turmoil. It opens dramatically with the protagonist Gu Chuanhui (顾传辉), a technician, accidentally discovering, in a library book, that his grandfather, who had died a broken man during the Cultural Revolution, was actually the “King of Iron and Steel” in pre-1949 Shanghai. He also finds out that his father had publically dissociated himself from his grandfather in order to marry his mother, a nurse. Now, under the new government policy, his father’s second brother would inherit the confiscated properties, including the glamorous Blue House. This important detail sets the plot in motion. From this point onwards, the protagonist is preoccupied with the idea of reclaiming his identity and getting a share of the Blue House. He is so absorbed in it that he ignores his beloved Bai Hong (白虹). Coincidence plays a trick on his journey to vanity. Ironically, Bai Hong is actually the younger sister of the protagonist’s cousin’s wife.


When she realizes that he is more interested in the Blue House than her, she leaves him. When the two families eventually meet, he will be given 10,000 yuan (a large sum in the early 1980s), but, before that happens, he has lost the woman he loves. Though a bit contrived in the ending (owing to censorship), the novella dramatically penetrates the impact of political change on an individual in post-Mao China.

Shanghai Ladies, Career and Marriage, Nostalgia and Shattered Dreams Cheng Naishan rarely wrote religious themes, only fused them with the actions of the characters. But there are exceptions. Her story “There Is Room in My Heart for Thee” (Zai wo xinzhong you kongchu wei ni, 在 我 心 中 有 空 处 为 你 , Guangzhou wenyi, 5, 1983) takes the unusual title from a hymn. It depicts a woman who feels inferior because she does not have a pretty face. Yet, her poise in church worship captures the attention of a talented, crippled painter. Cheng Naishan excels in the depiction of the daily lives of people from her own social stratum. Her novella “Daughters’ Tribulations” (Nüer jing, 女儿经, Wenhui yuekan, 3, 1985), which won a National Best Novellas award (1985–1986), poignantly delineates a Shanghai lady’s hopes and disappointments in the marriages of her three daughters. Mrs Shen (沈太太) feels a sense of superiority because she was a graduate of the prestigious Zhongxi Middle School for Girls 白虹 during the Republican period. After 1949, her husband is assigned to work in Northeast China. By the 1980s, her daughters are 35, 32, and 28, and none has married. Like Mrs Bennet in Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice, Mrs Shen is anxious to have them marry rich, well-educated men with big houses. It is Mrs Shen’s desire that gives momentum to the narrative. As the plot develops, the vain Mrs Shen faces one disappointment after another. The eldest daughter is deceived by a man who does not want to divorce his wife, who has an American green card; the second daughter decides to resume her graduate studies and splits with Tang (在 我 心 中 有 空 处 为 你 ), who has a spacious living space through his prominent family; and the third daughter refuses to marry a well-to-do Chinese Australian and is engaged to a poor electrician. The past glory that Mrs Shen wants to regain has evaporated like smoke. Cheng Naishan’s nostalgic novella “Three

Coins in the Fountain” (Penquan li de sanmei yingbi, 喷泉里的三枚硬币)7 is inspired by the 1954 American film of the same name. She appropriates the theme song for the title and sets the tale in the 1930s and 1940s. The narrative begins with three female students of the elite Biti Middle School for Girls standing for the famous Moti [McIntyre] Middle School for Girls in Shanghai) making a wish by throwing coins into the fountain on the eve of graduation, not realizing that war broke out the following day (1937). This point is the watershed of their fates. Ah Zhen (阿贞), who is from a poor scholar’s family, joins the underground communist movement; Huijun (慧珺) abandons her dream of higher education and marries an entrepreneur, a match arranged by her father; Xueli (雪莉) goes to study science at MIT and, after a failed marriage, resumes her studies and becomes a scientist in the United States. The narrative begins 45 years later. Now, two of them meet again underneath the seventh tree in a park, but workaholic Ah Zhen is absent owing to her busy work schedule. Using flashbacks and personal recollections, the narrative delineates their dreams and regrets. One recurrent idea, however, is that women can only realize their potential through self-empowerment. “Autumn Yearning” (Qiutian de panwang, 秋天的盼望, Huacheng, 1, 1988) was the fruit of Cheng Naishan’s visit to Hong Kong in 1986, when she met her old Shanghai friends, heard their stories, and reunited with her old grandfather. It is a pessimistic tale of two cities symbolized by the fates of two women—a mother and a daughter. The past in Shanghai and the present in Hong Kong are interwoven to form the split mental state of the protagonist. Twenty years previously, Linda (琳达) had come to Hong Kong from Shanghai, leaving her husband with a baby son and a 12year-old daughter. A woman of taste, with a fondness for material comforts, for years she had been the mistress of a rich man. Linda is treated like a commodity when the rich man, after emigrating to the United States, passes her on to a well-to-do retiree, who also abandons her when she has a cancer. Linda’s 30-year-old daughter repeats her journey, in a way, in abandoning her lover to come to Hong Kong. Hong Kong ironically provides mother and daughter with a refuge. The generation gap takes effect. They become alienated from each other. Linda kills herself by turning on the gas. Her hope in the autumn of life only leads, though too soon, to winter (death).


Cheng Naishan’s first novel, The Banker (Yinhangjia, 银 行 家 , formerly titled Gazing Toward the End of the Road, 望断天涯路, 1990, translation 1992), is the culmination of her writing. It echoes Mao Dun’s (茅盾, 1896–1981) famous novel Midnight (Ziye, 子夜, 1933) and Zhou Erfu’s (周而复, 1914–2004) Morning in Shanghai (Shanghai de zaochen, 上海的早晨, 1958–1979). It is a family saga and a canvas painting of Shanghai. It is Cheng Naishen’s fictionalized account of her grandfather Cheng Muhao, a leading figure in the Bank of China, in Shanghai and later in Hong Kong (pp. 3–7).8 Cheng Naishan vividly portrays the image of Zhu Jingchen (祝景臣), not only through his business talent, his benevolence (taking care of his colleagues), his generosity (donating the monetary gifts for his grandson to build a kindergarten for his workers), his patriotism (risking his reputation in maneuvering with the Japanese while maintaining the bank), his uprightness (transporting needy medicine to the hinterland), and his farsightedness (protecting the underground communists who later came to power), but also his shortcomings, such as his male chauvinism and dictatorial style. The hero Zhu Jingchen’s image could have been richer if Cheng Naishan had described more fully the early stages of his life. Nevertheless, she has revived the banker’s image in contemporary Chinese fiction. The novel begins with the depiction of Zhu Jingchen’s daughters, who are students of the elite Yuxiu Midddle School (育秀中学), on April 1, 1937. Through these young characters, Cheng Naishan characteristically captures the details of urban life in old Shanghai, such as Hollywood films, songs, music, fashion, Western pastries, dance parties, and YMCA charitable activities; she also deftly delineates these women’s cultivated manners and their desires. As the plot develops, the female protagonist, Zhixiang (芷霜), who wants to become an educator, ends up being a housewife in the Zhu family; Beibei (蓓蓓) becomes the mistress of a rich classmate’s father; and the most adventurous, Junying (隽颖) goes to Chongqing to resist the Japanese invasion. In comparison with these female characters, Cheng Naishan’s young male characters are not as successful. The Banker was supposed to be the first of a trilogy, but it now stands alone, following Cheng Naishan’s death. Cheng Naishan has made a unique contribution to contemporary Chinese literature by reviving the long-suppressed images of old

Shanghai, its people, its modernity, and its taste. She has given a voice to people from her background and reestablished their position in literature. Her depictions of the decor and manners of upper-class life open up a different world for Chinese readers. At the same time, Cheng Naishan injects new themes into her tales through the newly revived characters. In the last decade of her life, Cheng Naishan devoted her energy to producing a series of culturally and historically significant illustrated books with a personal touch, including Shanghai Tango (Shanghai Tan‘ge, 上海探戈, 2002), Shanghai Lady (Shanghai nüren, 上 海 女 人 , 2004), Shanghai Fashion (Shanghai shizhuang, 上海时装, 2005), Shanghai Romance (Shanghai langmanshi, 上海浪 漫史, 2006), and Shanghai Saxophone (Shanghai sakesifeng, 上海萨克斯风 , 2007). Notably, her 2007 book Tale of a Lady (Guixiu xing, 闺秀行) is based on the narration of Jiang Mingqiu (蒋明 秋, b. 1934), a well-educated Chinese American who embodies the noble qualities of a true lady.

Notes 1. Cheng Naishan and her mother, Pan Zuojun (潘佐 君, a graduate of St. John’s University in the 1940s), translated Nien Cheng’s (郑埝) memoir, Life and Death in Shanghai (上海生死劫, 1986; translation in 1988). In 1990, Cheng Naishan first translated Amy Tan’s Joy Luck Club and, in 2006, she translated it again with He Peihua (何培华) and Yan Yingwei (严映薇). 2. For details of Cheng Naishan’s grandfather and her family, see “Cheng Naishan: Zufu shi ‘Hongse zibenjia’ ” (程乃珊:祖父是“红色资本家 ”, Cheng Naishan: Her Grandfather was a “Red Capitalist”), Mingren zhuanji (名人传记), 5, 2012, pp. 24–30. 3. Cheng Naishan, “Wo de mama” (我的妈妈, My Mother), in Ni hao, Pake (你好,帕克, How are you, Gregory Peck?). Shanghai: Shanghai wenyi chubanshe, 1989, pp. 158–169. 4. For more details on Cheng Naishan, see Laifong Leung, Morning Sun: Interviews with Chinese Writers of the Lost Generation. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1994, pp. 30–41. 5. Zu Dingyuan (祖丁远), “Yong bu fangqi: ji zhuming nü zuojia Cheng Naishan” (永不放弃:记著名女作 家程乃珊, Never Give Up: Famous Women Writer Cheng Naishan), Renmin ribao, July 5, 2002, p. 7. 6. Cheng Naishan, “Cheng Naishan: wo buhui tingzhi xie Shanghai” (程乃珊:我不会停止写上海, Cheng Naishan: I Will Not Stop Writing about Shanghai), Shanghai caifeng (上海采风), July 2012, pp. 46–49. 7. Published in Cheng Naishan, Dingxiang bieshu (丁香别墅, Lilac Mansion). Shanghai: Shanghai wenyi chubanshe, 1986, pp. 149–192. 8. Cheng Naishan, “Wo de Shanghai tan” (我的上海滩 , My Shanghai Bund), in Ni hao, Pake, pp. 1–18.


Translations into English “Why Parents Worry,” Renditions, 27–28, Spring and Autumn (1987): 235–248. Also in Arthur W. Biddle, Gloria Bien, and Vinay Dharwadker (eds.), Contemporary Literature of Asia. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1996, pp. 265–280. “Hong Taitai” (trans. Janice Wickeri), Chinese Literature, Autumn (1988): 74–82. Also in Best Chinese Stories, 1949–1989. Beijing: Chinese Literature Press, Panda books; and Barbara-Sue White (ed.), Chinese Women: A Thousand Pieces of Gold. Oxford, UK, and New York: Oxford University Press, 2003, pp. 247–255. “Mountains Green and the Shining Stream” (trans. Lloyd Neighbors), Chinese Literature, Autumn (1988): 52–73. The Blue House. Beijing: Chinese Literature Press, 1989. The Piano Tuner (trans. Britten Dean). San Francisco, CA: China Books & Periodicals, 1989. “Row, Row, Row: Row to Grandma’s Home” (trans. Zhang Zhenzhong and William R. Palmer), Chinese Literature, Fall (1990): 134–141. “Gong Chun’s Teapot” (trans. Li Guoqing), Chinese Literature, Winter (1991): 77–118. The Banker (trans. Britten Dean). San Francisco, CA: China Books & Periodicals, 1992. “Happy Birthday” (trans. Rosemary Roberts), in Contemporary Chinese Women Writers III. Beijing: Chinese Literature Press, Panda Books, 1993, pp. 109–197. When a Baby is Born (trans. Benjamin Chang). New York: Better Link Press, 2010.

CHI LI (池莉, B. 1957) Capturing the Rhythm of the City Among the writers who emerged in the late 1970s, Chi Li is one of the few who have maintained their popularity into the 21st century. In 1987, Chi Li’s (and Fang Fang’s, 方方) pioneering works dealing in stark detail with the everyday life of the ordinary people in Wuhan (武汉) gave rise to the literary trend of New Realism. With New Realism, all the daily needs and feelings pushed aside by the need for grand narratives for the revolution now found their legitimate place in literature. Chi Li is prolific. By 1998, she had published a sevenvolume collection of her work. With a number of her texts being made into films, she became a household name in China.

Chi Li was born in Mianyang County (沔阳县, renamed Xiantao, 仙桃县, in 1986), Hubei Province. Her mother was a physician; her father was a local party secretary on an old revolutionary base in Hebei Province and was assigned to work in various places, which resulted in Chi Li’s itinerant childhood. During the Cultural Revolution, her father was persecuted. In 1974, Chi Li was sent to the countryside as a Zhiqing. Two years later, she attended the Mineralogy Medical Institute in Wuhan, where she was trained to be a physician specializing in epidemics. After graduation in 1980, she was assigned to work in the Wuhan Steel Workers Hospital. In 1983, she gave up her medical career to enroll in the Chinese literature program at Wuhan University (pp. 404–405).1 After graduation in 1987, she worked as an editor for the literary magazine Fangcao (芳草, Fragrant Grass). Three years later, she became a professional writer and had served as vice-chair of the Wuhan Writers’ Association. Chi Li’s works are mostly set in the city of Wuhan. Her adept use of the Wuhan dialects, as well as the manners and habits of the Wuhan people, established her as a representative writer of “literature with a Wuhan flavor”. She also uses two other locations, the Jianghan Plains (江汉 平原) between the Yangtze River and the Han River, and Mianshui County (沔水县). In her Zhiqing stories, set in the Jianghan Plains, she depicts love and betrayal among the sent-down youths and their relationships with the local peasants. In her historical tales, set in Mianshui County, she incorporates elements of local culture, such as a shaman’s possession of the spirit of the dead.

Rural Stories: Village women and rusticated youths Chi Li began publishing in 1976. She published her first work, a poem, in Wugan Literature & Art (Wugang wenyi, 武钢文艺), a journal of her work unit. She began writing fiction in 1978. Even though Chi Li had been a Zhiqing, she rarely writes about rustication. In her urban tales, even though some of her characters are former Zhiqing, Chi Li does not make use of their rustication experience as a significant part of the plot. A rare case is her novella “Footprints in the Soil” (You tudi, jiuyou zuji, 有土地,就有足迹 , Changjiang, 3, 1982), which is set at the end of the Cultural Revolution. The loosely structured narrative


revolves around the relationships among several Zhiqing. The local cadre who trains them in the hope of developing agricultural projects decides to abandon his plan but obtain permits for them to leave, an action suggesting the futility of the Rustication Movement. Chi Li shows her female consciousness in portraying women who empower themselves through education and hard work in the short story “Fine Moon” (Yue’er hao, 月儿好, Fangcao, 7, 1982). Winner of a prize given by the Wuhan Union of Writers and Artists, the narrative is focalized through the male protagonist, who returns to his native village in Mianshui County after 20 years’ absence. He comes to look for Ming Yuehao (明月好, literally “fine bright moon”), who was betrothed to him as a child bride before his abrupt departure for Shanghai. Coming from the city, he assumes that Ming Yuehao must have been living a miserable life as a village widow. To his surprise, Ming Yuehao has become a teacher through self-study and is the mother of three wellbehaved boys. This contrasts sharply with his broken marriage and his spoiled son and puts him to shame. Rural women with ambition have to overcome, not only cultural barriers, but also maledominated customs caused by poverty. Chi Li’s short story “Qiaqia” (恰恰, Fangcao, 11, 1985) deals with this cruel reality. It is an engaging tale of an enterprising village girl, Qiaqia, whose dream to make a living as a maid in the city is shattered by a backward practice at home. She is kidnapped back to her village to fulfill her brother’s promise in a marriage exchange arrangement, in order to save the cost of a dowry.

New Realism: Trials and tribulations of urban people The year 1987 marked a dividing line in Chi Li’s writing career. Her novella “Trial and Tribulations” (Fannao rensheng, 烦恼人生 , Shanghai wenxue, 8, 1987) won national acclaim and generated much discussion. Along with her two subsequent novellas, “Apart from Love” (Butan aiqing, 不谈爱情, Shanghai wenxue, 1, 1989) and “Birth of a Child” (Taiyang chushi, 太阳出世, Zhongshan, 4, 1990), they form a “Trilogy of Life” (Rensheng sanbuqu, 人生三部曲). “Trail and Tribulations” typifies what critics call the “stream of life” of an ordinary worker. The narrative begins with the protagonist Yin

Jiahou (印家厚) being awakened at 3:50 a.m. by his son, who has fallen out of bed in a crowded room. From that moment onward, to the time he retires to bed at 11:36 p.m. at night, the plot unfolds dramatically, in great detail about how long queues, traffic jams, gossipy colleagues, demanding work, and bothersome rural relatives coming for a visit cause great anxiety, frustration, and a sense of defeat. Every detail contains a deeper social context and builds up greater tension as the story progresses. Despite all this, the author gives her antihero a sense of comfort when he admits that, even though his wife does not look glamorous, she is the only person in the whole world who sees him off and waits for him to come home. The second novella, “Apart from Love,” satirizes the emphasis on wealth and status in marriage. It centers upon a young couple from different social backgrounds. Love obviously is not the prime reason for their marriage—the female protagonist marries the physician husband to upgrade her social status, and he marries her for her beauty. After a petty dispute, the wife returns home to her mother, a notoriously loose woman in the slum. The impasse between the couple seems insoluble. Chi Li provides a dramatic and meaningful twist. The problem is solved through an unexpected event: the husband is applying to do practicum in the United States, and his family dispute will jeopardize his chances. When the husband’s apology fails to bring the wife back home, his snobbish intellectual parents come to help. They kowtow to the mother-in-law, whom they despise. The forced happy ending thus contains layers of social critique. The third novella, “Birth of a Child,” deals with the challenges faced by a young couple in raising a family. The tale can be seen as an expansion of her 1982 short story “Look into My Eyes” (Kan zhe wo de yanjing, 看着我的眼睛).2 “Birth of a Child” goes further to describe in greater detail this important stage of life. The dramatic process is tightly linked with the living conditions and financial situations of the chief characters, as well as the interference of the in-laws and friends against the changing values of Chinese society. Chi Li’s well-known short story “Hot or Cold, Life is Okay” (Leng ye hao, re ye hao, huozhe jiuhao, 冷也好热也好,活着就好, Xiaoshuolin, 1–2, 1991) focuses on a hot summer day in the lives of common people on the street in Wuhan. Wuhan is famous for its heat in summer and cold temper-


atures in winter, because there is no central heating system. The climax comes in a scene when master Xu’s (许) family of three finally gets together for dinner, a mundane but tangible pleasure they can have and accept. In describing people’s accepting life as it is, Chi Li has been criticized for her compromising attitude.

Gains and Losses: The entrepreneurs After 1992, Deng Xiaoping’s new scheme to “let some people get rich first” rapidly changed the mentality of the Chinese people. Chi Li captures this change vividly in her portrayal of the images of entrepreneurs. Her 1990 novella “Show of Life” (Shenghuo xiu, 生活秀; film, 2002) deals with the gains and losses in life. It was made into a film and won the Best Film prize at the Shanghai International Film Festival (2002). Lai Shuangyang (来双扬), an energetic and ambitious entrepreneur, opens a restaurant in busy Jiqing Street (吉庆街) in Wuhan. While she is capable of achieving what she wants, she is ruthless. In order to get back her parents’ house, which had been occupied by another family during the Cultural Revolution, she arranges for her younger sister to marry the mentally disturbed son of the bureaucrat in charge of housing. As a woman, she yearns for an ideal love relationship, but what awaits her is but an illusion. Throughout the narration, Chi Li characteristically does not pass moral judgment, but presents life as it is. In “Who Do You Think You Are” (Ni yiwei ni shi shei, 你以为你是谁, Zhongguo zuojia, 1, 1995), Chi Li portrays life’s predicaments despite economic success. The robust protagonist Lu Wuqiao (陆武桥) gives up his job in a state-run enterprise to open a restaurant. He makes his fortune. His success, however, also means a greater burden on himself: he has to support his retired parents, his handicapped son, his unemployed elder sister and young brother, as well as his divorced wife and daughter. He has no choice but to continue working. Despite his financial success, he loses his girlfriend to a Canadian scientist who can take her abroad to study. The provocative title hence suggests that, even though he makes good money, he is still a loser. The meaning of life is explored from a detached angle in Chi Li’s allegorical short story “The Butterfly Out of a Cocoon” (Hua yong wei die, 化 蛹为蝶, Renmin wenxue, 7, 1995). The protagonist is an orphan. His original purpose in getting

rich is to show off his success to his mean host family, but, unexpectedly, they die in an accident before he has the chance to do so. He marries a materialistic woman, which necessitates him shuttling back and forth between Shenzhen and Wuhan. He soon finds it meaningless. Chi Li does not elaborate on his state of mind, but focuses on his actions. After his divorce, he puts all his money into rebuilding the orphanage on the outskirts of town, where he would grow his food with the orphans. He has symbolically emerged from a cocoon and turned into a butterfly.

Women and Families: Love and betrayal Love and marriage form a major theme in Chi Li’s fiction. The novella “Come and Go” (Lailai wangwang, 来来往往 , Shiyue, 4, 1997) depicts the changing relationship of a couple between the 1950s and the 1990s, against the changing society. The protagonist begins as a worker in a meat shop during the Maoist period. His marriage to the daughter of a high-ranking official lands him a cadre position. With Deng Xiaoping’s economic reform, he uses his official contacts to open his own business, which soon brings him wealth. The momentum of the plot picks up from this point onward. He begins an affair with a young woman from Beijing. As his promise to get a divorce is not realized, the woman leaves him. The coming and going of women in his life make him numb to life. What is provocative is that, whereas the wealthy husband who possesses money can possess many women, the wife, conditioned by traditional male values, clings to him with the illusion of triumph in her battle to maintain the status quo. Chi Li’s critique of the inequality between the sexes comes to the fore. In “Good Morning, Miss” (Xiaojie, ni zao, 小 姐你早, 1998),3 Chi Li depicts the revenge of a humiliated wife on the unfaithful husband. In the process of obtaining a divorce, she collaborates with her two female friends in a plot to lure him, drain his wealth, and expose his corruption. The author does not dwell on the details of how the plan is carried out, but reveals a news item from which the tale is drawn. The dominant but unfaithful male is finally punished by women joining together (the sisterhood). However, one would hope that the author would dig deeper into the psychological wavering of the female protagonist. Chi Li’s 1990 novella “No Snow All Winter” (Yidong weuxue, 一冬无雪)4 shows clearly her


feminist stance against traditional male-dominance. The first-person narrator comes out to defend her best friend, gynecologist Dr Li, who has been unjustly arrested after a medical accident. As the plot develops, it is revealed that Dr Li’s husband is impotent, and he presses her to get pregnant using a friend’s sperm. His male chauvinism is revealed when, after she gives birth to a daughter rather than a son, he rejects both the wife and the daughter. Chi Li ‘s novella “You Are a River” (Ni shi yitiaohe, 你是一条河, Xiaoshuojia, 3, 1991) is a superb tale of one woman’s determination against all odds in bringing up seven children after the death of her husband. Lala (辣辣) was born impoverished and is uneducated. She survives with her instincts and inborn intelligence. She is metaphorically a river, primitive yet powerful. She has the foresight not to marry her deceased husband’s brother, who later proves unreliable. Chi Li also depicts the love–hate relationship between Lala and her children, especially her eldest daughter, Dong’er (冬儿). The latter leaves for the countryside without telling the mother, and she even changes her name when she attends university. It is only after she becomes a mother herself that she realizes how much her mother has gone through. By then, Lala is already near death. The image of Lala is Chi Li’s most successful and memorable portrait. Chi Li’s 1992 novella “The Gaze” (Ningmou, 凝眸)5 mixes the unpredictability of life, the unreliability of human relations, and the gap between male and female. The female protagonist, Liu Zhenqing (刘真清), teaches in a girls’ school run by her mother in Mianshui County. One day, by chance, she meets two men, Yan Zhuangfu (严壮 夫) and Xiao Qiu (啸秋), without knowing their identity as underground communists. The novella subverts the sacred notion of revolution through the brutal inner-party struggles. The innocent female protagonist goes to look for Yan Zhuangfu, her mentor. However, he is soon betrayed and brutally killed by his best friend, Xiao Qiu, in the name of the revolution. Disillusioned, she returns home to resume her job as a teacher. This novella differs from Chi Li’s other works in that it conveys a tragic sense of history. The female protagonist realizes that men such as Yan and Xiao take revolution more seriously than her. Chi Li’s 2006 novel Therefore (Suoyi, 所以) is a tale of a woman seeking for love all her life, but in vain. The first-person narrator, Ye Zi (叶紫),

recalls her love–hate relationship with her parents and siblings, as well as her unhappy relationships with two former husbands. Born during the famine, she has never been a welcome member of the family. Her father is aloof and timid, and her mother is quarrelsome. Ye Zi’s first husband is simply a selfish creep who uses her to secure his urban residence permit. Her second husband is a good-for-nothing film director who never manages to shoot a film, and he tricks young women on the Internet. All she has is her son, who is the extension of herself. The idea that a child is more rewarding than a husband also recurs in her recent novel Stand Up (Li, 立, 2014), which is a fictionalized account of her relationship with her daughter. Chi Li’s fiction has occupied an important position in contemporary Chinese fiction in that she has subverted the dominant discourse of metanarrative to construct a fictional world of the concrete and the ordinary. Through her brand of New Realism, she captures truthfully the life of urban people in their daily struggles. She depicts, from a detached angle, the ups and downs of the entrepreneurs and the changes in values and human relations. She is praised for giving a voice to women and portraying them as independent entrepreneurs. At the same time, she has been criticized for abandoning lofty ideals and her reluctance to include a moral judgment. Though she has market success, her prolific output has inevitably led to repetitiveness and verbosity.

Notes 1. “Houji yu xiaozhuan” (后记与小传, Postscript and a brief biography), collected in Chi Li wenji (池莉文 集, Collected Works of Chi Li), vol. 4. Nanjing: Jiangsu wenyi chubanshe, 1995, pp. 404–407. 2. In Chi Li wenji (Collected Works of Chi Li), vol. 3, pp. 383–386 3. In Chi Li wenji, vol. 6, pp. 59–143. 4. In Chi Li wenji, vol. 2, pp. 229–288. 5. In Chi Li wenji, vol. 3, pp. 179–238.

Translations into English “Trials and Tribulations” (trans. Stephen Fleming), Chinese Literature, Winter (1988): 112–160; also in Contemporary Chinese Women Writers III. Beijing: Chinese Literature Press, 1993, pp. 11–87. “Fine Moon” (trans. Ying Wang), Chinese Literature, Autumn (1991): 121–129. Apart from Love. Beijing: Chinese Literature Press, 1994.


“Willow Waist” (trans. Scott W. Galer), in Howard Goldblatt (ed.), Chairman Mao Would Not Be Amused: Fiction from Today’s China. New York: Grove Press, 1995, pp. 262–268. “City Package” (trans. Guoqing Li), Chinese Literature, Spring (1995): 77–106. “The Heart More than the Flesh” (trans. Weidong Wang), Chinese Literature, 2 (1999): 10–38. “A Rose Blossoming Overnight” (trans. Haiyan Chen), Chinese Literature, May–June (2000): 64–72. “Hot or Cold, Life’s Okay” (trans. Michael Cody), in Shu-ning Sciban and Fred Edwards (eds.), Dragonflies: Fiction by Chinese Women in the Twentieth Century. Ithaca, NY: East Asia Program, Cornell University, 2003, pp. 174–186. Apart from Love and Other Selected Writing. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 2009.

CHI ZIJIAN (迟子建, B. 1964) Writer from North Pole Village Chi Zijian is best known for her fiction set in China’s northernmost Mohe County (漠河县), Heilongjiang Province, on the Sino-Russian border. Because the area she predominately writes about falls in the chernozem belt, she is referred to as a writer of the Black Soil. Because Chi Zijian writes in a distinctive style that does not follow any literary trend, she is also referred to by some critics as a “loner.” Chi Zijian’s fiction characteristically shows a melancholic, poetic quality and a tendency to seek out the good rather than the evil side of human beings. Chi Zijian has been prolific since her emergence onto the literary scene in the mid-1980s, and she has been able to maintain her highbrow quality. Her collection of short stories Figments of the Supernatural (2004) won the 2004 Suspended Sentence Fellowship as a literary exchange program between Australia, China, and Ireland. Her novel The Last Quarter of the Moon (Eerguna He you’an, 额尔古纳河右 岸 , 2005; English, 2013) won the Mao Dun Literary Prize (2008). Chi Zijian essentially draws inspiration from her childhood and her hometown, which, for most of the year, is covered with snow and, in summer, is enlivened with white nights. In winter, people would gather around the furnace for warmth and companionship and entertain themselves by telling stories. Throughout her formative years, Chi Zijian absorbed a rich repertoire of folk tales and ghost stories from her village folk. Her

father, headmaster of an elementary school and well versed in literature, expected her to become a writer and named her “Zijian” (子建) after Cao Zijian (曹子建, 192–232 AD), a major poet of the Later Han dynasty. Unfortunately, her father passed away at the beginning of her writing career. After graduating from middle school, Chi Zijian entered the Da Xing’an Ridge Normal College (大兴安岭师范学院). During her last year of college, she published the warmly received novella “A Fairy Tale from Northern Pole Village” (Beiji cun tonghua, 北极村童话, Renmin wenxue, 2, 1986). After graduation, Chi Zijian was assigned to teach in her father’s school in Yong’an (永安), Tahe County (塔河县). In 1987, she entered the graduate program jointly offered by the Lu Xun Literary Institute and Beijing Normal University. In 1990, she became a professional writer in the Heilongjiang Writers’ Association.1 Chi Zijian has a predilection for revealing the goodness of humanity. For this, she has been criticized for inclining to write with excessive “warm sentiments” (wenqing, 温情), ignoring the evil side of human beings. But the question remains whether she must write about the evil side of human nature. In fact, since the Cultural Revolution, there has been an urgent need to recall the good side of humanity. What is important is that she has written from her own, individual point of view. Chi Zijian is not a feminist writer in the Western sense. To her, human nature is above gender differences. She believes in harmony between the sexes, but does not refrain from depicting male chauvinism. Chi Zijian has good control of narrative rhythm and often surprises her readers with a gentle twist that takes the character in an unexpected direction. She includes in her plot structures rich, fantastic, supernatural elements from the folklore of Heilongjiang Province. There are many approaches to Chi Zijian’s large literary output. Here, we roughly group her works into two categories, (1.) the short stories and novellas and (2.) the novels.

Short Stories and Novellas Chi Zijian’s short stories and novellas encompass a variety of themes, including childhood, love (of all kinds), journeys, and death. They intermingle in various ways with occasional supernatural, fantastic elements. In some of her works in the late 1990s, she incorporates more current Chinese


urban realities, but the effects have been less impressive.

Childhood, Love, Death, Redemption Chi Zijian’s earliest novella, “A Fairy Tale from North Pole Village” (Beiji cun tonghua, 北极村童 话, completed in September 1984 and published in Renmin wenxue, 2, 1986), already shows her effortless fusion of nature imagery with familial love and death from the viewpoint of a child. In many ways, this novella sets the lyrical tone and supple style of her fiction. It is characteristically structured in sections (18 in total), each representing a fragment of the eight-year-old girl’s childhood experience during her two-year stay in her maternal grandparents’ home in North Pole Village. The main action revolves around the girl’s curiosity about the world around her. Apart from discovering the watery landscape near the village, she befriends an old, lonely Russian woman abandoned by her Chinese husband and overhears her maternal grandfather’s secret that he hasn’t revealed to his wife the passing of their exiled son. On her departure, the girl narrator has crossed a threshold to understand more about life and death and has learned to keep her maternal grandfather’s secret for a good cause. Familial love, death, and supernatural elements are subtly intertwined to present a mournful mood. In her autobiographical short story “The Strawberries” (Chongwen caomei, 重 温 草 莓 , Renmin wenxue, 2, 1989), the first-person narrator has a dialogue with her deceased father while taking caring of the dying mother. The strawberry garden nurtured by both parents serves as a motif of love, which is fulfilled when the mother dies in its aroma. In another story, “Cemetery under Snow” (Baixue de muyuan, 白雪的墓园, Chunfeng, 4, 1991), the first-person narrator has a hallucination of seeing her deceased father coming into the room and patting her shoulders. This tenderness, however, is interrupted by the image of the snow-covered cemetery where her father has recently been laid to rest. The red dot that appears in the mother’s eyes when the father dies and disappears after the mother’s visit to his grave is seen as the father’s soul finally at rest. In the simple story “Potato Lovers” (Qinqin tudou, 亲亲土豆, Zuojia, 6, 1995), Chi Zijian deals sensitively with love and death through a village couple devoted to growing potatoes. Because the husband has cancer, they go to the city to get

medical treatment. Feeling guilty that his frugal wife has never had a chance to wear nice clothes, he secretly leaves the hospital and spends $300 (of his medical fees), a large sum for them, to purchase a “Qipao” (旗袍) for her. However, sadly, and ironically, she can only wear it at his funeral. Knowing that her husband is devoted to growing potatoes, she piles them up on his grave. As she is about to leave, a potato rolls down and lands at her feet. Her remark, “Are you following me?” gives a mysterious and delicate twist typical of Chi Zijian. The short story “Cow-rail in Fog Month” (Wuyue niulan, 雾月牛栏, also translated as “Lost in the Ox Pen”, Shouhuo, 5, 1996), winner of the Lu Xun Literary Prize, is a tale of guilt and redemption. It is set in a village that is enshrouded by thick, symbolic fog for the whole month of June every year. Baozhui (宝坠), a 15-year-old boy, stubbornly refuses to sleep in the house and instead sleeps in the cowshed, with three cows. His gravely ill stepfather comes repeatedly to talk with him, begging him to sleep in the house after his death. The suspense is then revealed through the stepfather’s flashback. Eight years ago, Baozhui woke up at night and happened to see his parents making love. The angry stepfather knocked his stepson’s head on the cowshed, severely damaging his brain. From then onwards, Baozhui mysteriously insists on sleeping in the cowshed. The moving power of the story rests on two points: the guilt-ridden stepfather’s attempt to redeem himself by taking care of the boy so meticulously that he ignores his own daughter; and that, after the stepfather’s death, Baozhui, showing no sign of recovery (hence indicating a mistake impossible to redeem), still lives in his own world with his cattle.

Folklore, Nature and Village Life Nature and folklore are beautifully fused in “Disappearing River” (Shi chuan, 逝川, Shouhuo, 5, 1994), which is set in autumn in a fishing village by the symbolic Disappearing River. Folklore has it that, every autumn, tear fish will swim down the river in large quantities. This kind of fish is peculiar. When caught, it will shed tears. To stop it from shedding tears, one has to say “don’t’ cry, don’t’ cry,” place it in a water container for a day, and then pour it back into the river. Anyone who wants good fortune and a warm winter will have to catch at least one tear fish and let it go.


Against this folklore background, Chi Zijian creates a tale of compassion through the female character Jixi, a 78-year-old midwife. The tension of the narrative is maintained with three concurrent actions: Jixi’s memory of her deceased young lover Hu (胡, who, influenced by local custom, did not marry her because she was too able), her immediate duty of helping Hu’s son’s wife in labor, and her anxiety about not being able to catch any tear fish before they disappear. The denouement occurs when, finally, the young wife gives birth to twins, and, when Jixi returns home, exhausted, she is surprised that her fellow villagers have filled her empty barrel with tear fish. Ci Zijian exemplifies her characteristic “warm sentiments” in the ending. The simple tale juxtaposes past and present, loss and gain, the impermanence of life with eternal nature (river, tear fish), life (the twins) and death (her former lover Hu). Chi Zijian explores the conflict between rural morals and the market economy, and the rediscovery of conscience. In the short story “White Silver Village” (Baiyinna, 白银那, Dajia, 2, 1996), set in a village upstream on the Heilongjiang (Amur River), the dull life of the villagers is enlivened by the sudden arrival of a large quantity of fish, immediately after the ice melts. While every family throws all their energy into catching fish, the merchant Ma (马) and his wife stop early, go to town to purchase a large quantity of salt, and secretly cut the electricity cables that connect the village to the town. The villagers soon realize that their fish will rot quickly without salt. Ma takes the opportunity to raise the price of salt so high that it angers the villagers. It is at this juncture that Chi Zijian’s moral preoccupation and “warm sentiments” set in, and the potentially serious conflicts are tuned down and dissipated. It turns out that Ma’s scheme is not just profit, but revenge. Years ago, when he was ill, he was unable to get help from the fellow villagers. Ma’s conscience returns after the village head’s wife (whom Ma was fond of as a young man) is killed by a bear when digging ice from a mountain cave. For redemption, he puts the salt quietly in front of all the villagers’ doors.

Journey, Mystery, Death, and Healing Journey is a recurrent motif in Chi Zijian’s fiction. “A Visit to a Nunnery” (Nao an, 闹庵, Shidai wenxue, 2, 1996) depicts a mysterious journey in which two men, who are fond of travelling, stop

for a drink at a restaurant in a remote town. Upon hearing that there is a beautiful nun in the nunnery in the woods nearby, the curious protagonist secretly enters it at night, but gets into a thoughtful conversation with an old nun. When he and his friend go to look for the nunnery, it is nowhere to be found. A twist adds a mysterious dimension to the text in that, when the protagonist returns home, he discovers that his wife has left home to become a nun. Chi Zijian often uses a disrupted journey to create a spatial and temporal setting for her tale. In the story “Reverse Spirit” (Nixing jingling, 逆 行精灵, Zhongshan, 3, 1997), she depicts how the passengers change from being strangers to each other’s confidants on a journey, when the bus is forced to stay at an inn overnight owing to bad weather conditions. At this specific time and in this specific place, people unmask themselves. The young woman in white flying across the woods, supposedly witnessed or dreamed of by several passengers, becomes a shared memory of the disrupted journey. The fantastic novella “Journey to the White Nights” (Xiangzhe baiye de lüxing, 向着白夜的旅 行, Zhongshan, 3, 1997) is chillingly prophetic in view of Chi Zijian’s husband’s death in a traffic accident in spring 2002. The narrative deals with a divorced couple’s journey, from June 15 to June 21, to see the white nights in Mohe County. It fuses reality with the supernatural so seamlessly that the reader cannot help but identify with the actions of the main characters. People on the train, in the hotel, and at the restaurant ignore the husband Ma Kongduo’s (马孔多) existence and only talk to the wife. In Mohe County, they even bump into an old friend, who invites Ma Kongdou, an archaeologist, to give a lecture on a ship. Ma Kongduo suddenly decides to join the woman murdered in a town during their journey. The chilling truth is only revealed after the wife returns home to Harbin and receives two letters: one says that Ma Kongduo was killed in a traffic accident on June 15, and the other is from the old friend, who says that he pretended to invite Ma Kongdou to give a lecture so as to help her heal from his death. Chi Zijian’s most moving journey tale is “All the Nights in the World” (Shijie shang suoyou de yewan, 世界上所有的夜晚, Zhongshan, 3, 2005), which won the 2007 Lu Xun Literary Prize. It was written after Chi Zijian’s husband’s death in a car accident in 2002. This novella is the result of a trip she took to heal her pain.


The first-person protagonist, the widow of a magician killed by a motorcycle, is on a trip to Three Hill Lake to heal, but the train stops at a coal-mining town owing to bad weather and poor conditions. The rhythm builds up steadily, along with her encounters, one after another, each one revealing more absurd and tragic aspects of life: the folk artist is killed by the heavy frame he hung on the wall; the wife of a peddler dies after being bitten by a stray dog. The most disturbing are the deaths of ten coal miners. The protagonist identifies emotionally with the poor widows. Suspense is created when one of the widows, whose husband’s body was missing, displays hysterical behavior, especially when the electricity is out. A rule in town stipulates that one must report to the authority only if there are more than ten casualties. The truth is that the wife has been paid compensation to hide her husband’s dead body (the 11th to die) in the freezer. After witnessing all these misfortunes, the widowed protagonist comes to the realization that she is not alone in suffering. Chi Zijian gives the narrative a folklore touch at the end, when the protagonist lets the paper lantern flow down the stream.

Novels with Diverse Themes: Social, historical and ethnic Chi Zijian began writing novels in the early 1990s, but her early novels did not attract much attention. Entering the 21st century, she broadened her scope to deal with historical and ethnic subject matter. Her first novel, Under a Tree (Shu xia, 树下, 1991), consists of seven chapters. The orphaned female protagonist Qidou (七斗) is abused by her aunt and raped by her uncle. The first four chapters are highlighted by four unexpected appearances of the Oroqen people (鄂伦春人), who symbolize freedom and vigor. Her three brief encounters with heroic Oroqen youth give her hope. However, her dream is shattered during the fourth encounter, when she is told that her hero has been killed by a bear. The rest of the novel seems congruous to Qidou’s personality development in her two hasty marriages to illiterate hunters. Chi Zijian attempts to write about current urban problems in a realistic style, but with less success. Her novel Sounds of the Bells Morning to Evening (Chenzhong xiangche huanghun, 晨钟响 彻黄昏, 1993) is told in the first person alternately by the divorced professor protagonist, his mentally

disturbed female student, and his little son. The main plot line focuses on the cynical protagonist’s poor relations with his former wife and a sexy middle-aged woman battered by society. The second line, presented in diary form, concerns the suicide of his female student after she has been raped twice. The third line consists of the son’s monologue and his tragic death—he is thrown off a building for having witnessed his mother’s new boyfriend making love with another woman. Chi Zijian is overambitious to cover many aspects of society, but the novel lacks psychological depth. In her ecological novel Clear Sky beyond the Clouds (Yueguo yunceng de qinglang, 越过云 层的晴朗, 2009), Chi Zijian experiments with extensive personification by using an old dog as a first-person narrator recalling his past. Defamiliarization is at work throughout the text, with the dog shifting from one master to the next, such as the kind-hearted physician Dr Wen (文医 生), the poor woman Mei (梅), who bears babies for a living, the greedy hotel owner, and the morally corrupt film director and actors, thus providing a continual exposure of different personalities and social realities. The call for equal treatment of animals and plantations gives the novel an ecological significance. Chi Zijian’s historical novels are impressive owing to her research efforts and ability to reconstruct the past with verisimilitude. The two-volume novel The Manchu State (Wei Manzhouguo, 伪满洲国, 2000) does not focus on Puyi (溥仪), the last emperor, and the people around him, but gives a panoramic portrayal of the life of ordinary people, year by year, from 1932 to 1945, under the Japanese rule in Northeast China. A similar effect is also achieved in White Snow Black Crows (Baixue wuya, 白 雪 乌 鸦 , 2010), which deals with the rat epidemic, before, during, and after 1910, in Harbin. The novel The Last Quarter of the Moon (Eerguna He de you’an, Shouhuo, 6, 2005), which won the Mao Dun Literary Prize, marks a high point of Chi Zijian’s writing. It is the first novel to deal with the diminishing Evenki (鄂维克 ) minority in Northeast China’s Daxing’an Ridges from the perspectives of their mode of life, culture, and identity, and the inevitable decline in the face of modernization. It is told by the 90-year-old wife of the last clan chieftain of an Evenki tribe, who is also the last person to choose to stay on the mountain instead of following her clansmen to move into the city. Because the novel resonates


with the situation of many native populations in other continents, it has a universal significance. Structurally, the novel consists of four sections: dawn, midday, dusk, and the last quarter of the moon. The old woman’s listeners are not any human being, but only the rain and the snow. Chi Zijian lets the Evenki first-person narrator tell her tale without imposing a Han viewpoint. The details of Evenki tribal life are vividly portrayed through hunting, cutting up and cooking animals, weaving feathers to make clothing, polishing animal bones to make necklaces, as well as marriage decisions and ceremonies, shaman dances, wind burial, and taboos. There are depictions of the fire god, the thunder god, and thunder goddess and their impact on the Evenki belief system. There are also abundant references to nature, such as snow, trees, and rivers, as well as animals such as reindeer, bears, fish, and birds. All this forms the basis of the Evenki culture and identity and thus contains anthropological significance. The most impressive character is the shaman, who dances in order to save others, even though she loses her own unborn baby. These peace-loving people live in harmony with nature, and yet history forces them to make painful choices, first through the Republican government, second the Japanese, and then the Communist government. Their immediate enemies, however, are those felling trees for greed. The old woman narrator can be regarded as a hero who guards her culture, tradition, and the ecology. The story she tells is, hence, an elegy for her race. As a writer from Northeast China, an area occupied by Japan from 1931 to the end of World War II, Chi Zijian is immediately associated with her famous predecessor Xiao Hong (萧 红 , 1911–1942). In fact, Chi Zijian acknowledges the influence of this iconic writer. Chi Zijian’s contribution to contemporary Chinese literature rests on her individual poetic style, characterized by rich nature imagery, striking metaphors and similes, and personification. Her orientation toward the goodness of human beings, though controversial, remains emblematic of her writing. Given the success of her recent novels, Chi Zijian is now placed in the top rank of Chinese writers. What is more, she has potential for further development.

Note 1. Biographical information is based on the author’s interviews with Chi Zijian in Harbin, June 1991. Also, see Fang Shoujin (方守金), “Chi Zijian Lun”

(迟子建论, On Chi Zijian), Anhui Jiaoyu Xueyuan Xuebao (安徽教育学院学报), 1, 2001: 63–67.

Translations into English “In the Vast Country of the North” (trans. Geoffrey Bonnycastle), in Contemporary Chinese Women Writers II. Beijing: Chinese Literature Press, 1991, pp. 290–314. “Lost in the Ox Pen” (trans. Wang Chiying), Chinese Literature, 4 (1997): 56–75. Figments of the Supernatural (trans. Simon Patton). Sydney: James Joyce Press, 2004. A Flock in the Wilderness. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 2005. “Bathing in Fresh Water” (trans. Wang Zhiguang), in Street Wizards and Other New Folklore. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 2009, pp. 79–106. “A Jar of Lard” (trans. Chenxin Jiang), Pathlight: New Chinese Writing, 1 (2012): 32–45. The Last Quarter of the Moon (trans. Bruce Humes). London: Harvill Secker, 2013.

CONG WEIXI (从维熙, B. 1933) Gulag Survivor According to a witty remark by eminent writer Wang Meng (王蒙, b. 1934), Cong Weixi is the “Father of High Wall Literature,” and Zhang Xianliang (张贤亮, 1936–2014) is the “Uncle of Big Wall Literature” (high wall and big wall being euphemisms for prison and labor camps). Cong Weixi’s 1979 novella “The Blood-Stained Magnolias” (Daqiang xia de hong yulan, 大墙下 的红玉兰, Shouhuo, 2, 1979) was surely the first work since 1949 about life in the labor camp, or the Chinese gulag. Moreover, among the writers who went through similar experiences, Cong Weixi has devoted most of his energy to writing about the gulag. He has made important contributions to the genre of Chinese Gulag literature, with more than 30 novellas, novels, and memoirs in his eight-volume Collected Works of Cong Weixi (Cong Weixi wenji, 从维熙文集, 1996). His works have been translated into such languages as English, German, French, Japanese, and Serbian. Cong Weixi was born into a scholar’s family in Yutian (玉田县) County, Hebei Province. His grandfather held the title of “outstanding talent” (xiucai, 秀才) during the late Qing dynasty. During the Republican period, his father worked as an aero-engineer in Chongqing, but he was jailed for


escaping to the communist base and he died in 1937. Cong Weixi and his mother went to live with his maternal grandparents. In 1946, they moved to Beijing, where he enrolled in the sixth grade. In 1950, he entered the Beijing Normal School and began publishing the same year. Cong Weixi’s first essay, “Going to the Battle” (Dao zhanchang qu, 到战场去, November 10, 1950, Xinmin bao, [新 民 报 , New People’s Daily]), is about patriotic youths going to fight in the Korean War. His debut story, “Common Enemy” (Gongtong de diren, 共同的敌人, January 1, 1951, Guangming ribao [光明日报, Guangming Daily),1 is a simple, patriotic story concerning two rival middle-school classmates, who become good friends after they decide to join the army to fight in the Korean War. In 1952, Cong Weixi published several stories depicting peasant life in a positive light, according to the party line. After he graduated from Beijing Normal School in 1953, he taught at an elementary school in the suburbs of Beijing. Half a year later, he became a reporter for the Beijing Daily. Cong Weixi wrote prolifically. In 1955, he published his first collection of short stories, July Rain (Qiyue yu, 七月雨). Over the next two years, with the publication of his second short-story collection, The Morning Sun Rises (Shuguang shengqi de zaochen, 曙光升起的早晨), and the novel Spring Morning along South River (Nanhe chunxiao, 南河春晓), he was recognized as a rising star. During the Hundred Flowers Campaign in 1956, an editor of Beijing Literature & Art (Beijing wenyi, 北京文艺) invited Cong Weixi to contribute his thoughts on literary issues. He responded enthusiastically with the essay “A Few Questions Concerning Socialist Realism” (Dui shehui zhuyi xianshi zhuyi de jidian zhiyi, 对社会 主义现实主义的几点质疑), which appeared in the April issue, 1957. In the essay, Cong Weixi questioned the adding of the adjective “socialist” to the term “realism.” To him, socialist realism only leads to an excessive emphasis on politics and formulaic writing. Also invited to contribute to the same issue was writer Liu Shaotang (刘绍棠), Cong Weixi’s good friend, who responded with the essay “The Development of Realism in the Socialist Era” (Xianshi zhuyi zai shehui zhuyi shidai de fazhan, 现实主义在社会主义时代的发展), criticizing socialist realism. During the AntiRightist Campaign, Beijing Literature & Art published an article attacking both of them,

claiming that the journal had deliberately enticed the “poisonous weeds to stick their heads out above ground.” Around the same time, Cong Weixi’s ironically titled “An Unhappy Story” (Bing bu yukuai de gushi, 并 不 愉 快 的 故 事 , Changchun, July 1957),2 which depicts a peasant rally against heavy government taxation, made his situation worse. Cong Weixi was condemned as a member of a “counterrevolutionary clique” (which included several writers with whom he had hardly any contact) and a Rightist. At the same time, his wife Zhang Hu (张沪), a reporter on the Beijing Daily, was labeled a Rightist for criticizing the bureaucrats (so were her father, who had been expelled from the CCP in Yan’an, and younger brother). Unable to endure the investigation and public humiliation, his wife attempted suicide by taking sleeping pills, but was saved, only because the doctors did not know that she was a Rightist. (During the Cultural Revolution, she attempted suicide again by swallowing insecticide but was saved.) One day, they were ordered to report to the leadership, but they were arrested and immediately sent to labor reform, leaving their baby son in Beijing with Cong Weixi’s mother (who had bound feet and was illiterate). Husband and wife did not know each other’s whereabouts until more than a year later, when they were located by chance at the Qinghe Agricultural Farm (清河农场), a notorious labor camp near Tianjin. Through arrangements made by a kind prison guard, Cong Weixi was able to meet his wife and allowed to stay overnight at her camp. (Years later, Cong Weixi made a remark to his interviewer in Australia that Solzhenitsyn’s gulag writing was too one-sided in his extremely negative portrayal of prison guards.)3 For the next 20 years, Cong Weixi endured various kinds of labor reform: he worked in coal mines, cut rocks, dug wells and graves, and delivered manure, even after the Rightist label was lifted. Though he endured hardship, humiliations, and hunger, what kept him going was the tenacity of hope and the human spirit.

The Chinese Gulag: Triumph of the human spirit After Mao’s death, the frozen literary scene began to thaw. Cong Weixi was rehabilitated in 1978. He quickly plunged into writing, using his labor camp experience as a creative source. In a short time, he produced the story “The Blood-stained


Magnolias” (Daqiang xia de hong yulan, 大墙下的红玉兰, Shouhuo, 2, 1979), which immediately attracted a great deal of attention for its depiction of the taboo subject of the gulag. The narrative is set in the spring of 1976, after the death of Premier Zhou Enlai (周恩来, January 8, 1976). The hero Ge Ling (葛翎), the head of provincial public security, is condemned because he wrote in his notebook about the deification of Mao by the followers of the Gang of Four. The main action revolves around Ge Ling and his fellow inmates wanting to make a wreath to commemorate Premier Zhou Enlai during the Qingming Festival. They discover some red magnolias hanging over the tall prison walls, which they plan to use to make a wreath. Their secret leaks out. A ladder conveniently placed against the prison wall is set up as a trap. As Ge Ling climbs up the ladder to pick the flowers, a guard shoots. Ge Ling’s blood and the red magnolias merge symbolically into a heroic image. Though somewhat contrived, the story was well received. Cong Weixi’s former prison guards attempted to sue him for slander. With the postMao thaw, Cong Weixi was safe, and the story won an award in the first National Best Short Stories competition. Cong Weixi has a strong moral preoccupation, particularly in the portrayal of suffering intellectuals. Some of them are eyewitness accounts of the first-person narrator Ye Tao (叶涛, Cong Weixi’s fictional self), which gives them credibility. In the novella “Snow Falling Silently onto the Yellow River” (Xue luo Huanghe jing wusheng, 雪落黄河 静无声),4 the narrator’s friend Fan Ruhan (范儒汉, literally “Confucian scholar”), an honest intellectual, is sent to raise chickens in the labor camp. Despite the food shortage, he submits the right number of eggs. His upright personality wins the heart of a female inmate, a physician. However, Fan’s narrow view of patriotism (which, unfortunately, might reflect Cong Weixi’s worldview) prevents him from forgiving her so-called “betrayal of the nation”—she had been in prison for escaping from China. Cong Weixi’s gripping long novel The Fugitive (Taofan, 逃犯) consists of three novellas,5 each imbued with the escapee protagonist’s hardship, fear, and moral dilemma. However, the escapee protagonist typically meets a caring female character who helps him through. The first novella (Part 1), “Teary Eye in the Wind” (Feng lei yan, 风泪眼), an award winner in the National Best

Novellas competition, is set during the Great Famine in the late 1950s. The protagonist Suo Hongyi (索泓一), an “erlaogai” (二劳改, someone whose label of Rightist has been lifted but is still under surveillance), is on duty as a watchman at a slaked-lime storage unit. At night, while he is chasing a thief who stole his food, the latter throws slaked lime at him, which damages his left eye and later causes it to shed tears uncontrollably in the wind, hence the symbolic title. The thief Li Cuicui (李翠翠), a wanderer from the faminestricken Henan Province, is looking for food and a man who can provide it. Cong Weixi shows the moral nobility of the protagonist by refusing her when she offers herself to him. She ends up marrying the ugly guard for survival. To express her gratitude, she secretly brings food to him and helps him escape. Unusually in Chinese Gulag literature, the narrative ends with his successful escape. The second novella (Part 2), “The Yin and Yang Zone” (Yin Yang jie, 阴阳界) takes the fugitive Suo Hongyi to a remote border region between Hebei and Henan Provinces, where, again, he encounters his guardian angel Cai Guifeng (蔡桂风 ), an orphan whose landlord grandfather was executed during the land reform in the 1950s. In exchange for food and security, Cai Guifeng becomes the mistress of a local cadre and uses her peculiar position to help the protagonist escape. Cong Weixi adds cultural interest to this novella by including folklore, for instance, a “yin” wedding—the marriage between the cadre’s deceased father and a woman who had died two days previously, hence the title. The third novella “Heartbroken Grass” (断肠 草, or “Stone Grass,” 石草儿) brings the fugitive to a temple on the arid Taiheng Mountain (太行山). He pretends to be the long-lost adopted son of an old inmate and lives with the latter’s daughter, Stone Grass (石草儿), who protects him and later marries him. While searching for a well for the villagers, he is spotted and arrested, abruptly ending his journey as a fugitive. Structurally, these three novellas form a cycle—escape, encounter, and arrest—suggesting that there is no way out in an oppressive state. From a gender perspective, one also detects a male-centered perspective at play in having the three women wholeheartedly serving the fugitive hero. In this regard, Cong Weixi is similar to Zhang Xianliang. Cong Weixi’s allegorical novella “Grave Stone for a Cat” (Mao bei, 猫碑)6 is one of his best stories set in exile. It contains fantastic elements rarely


seen in his labor-camp fiction. It questions the loss of genuine human nature through excessive politicization. The protagonist and his wife, now living under surveillance in a coal mine in Shanxi Province, adopt a black cat to chase away the mice. Their neighbor’s daughter Gaini (改妮), originally an innocent girl, has become violent and radical since the Cultural Revolution. Apart from humiliating the couple, she mistreats the cat, regarding it as a petty-bourgeois cat. The cat, terribly wounded, turns wild and leads weasels, wolves, and other cats to kill chickens and sheep at night, causing great disturbance in the village. Both Gaini and the cat have been alienated, the former by the poison of class struggle, and the latter by physical abuse. Both have lost their genuine nature under extreme circumstances. After portraying gulag survivors in many novels, Cong Weixi turned to writing his own memoir. His 1988 memoir Entering Chaos (Zou xiang hundun, 走向混沌) consists of two parts: “Memoir of the Anti-Rightist Campaign” (Fanyou huiyilu, 反右回忆录) and “Entering the ‘Big Wall’ ” (Jinru “Daqiang,” 进入“大墙”). They cover the period from April 1957, when he first responded to the Hundred Flowers Campaign as a reporter, to summer 1962, when he was on a train to another gulag. In 1998, after much research, revisiting of former labor camps, and verification of details, Cong Weixi wrote the third part, which consists of “Broken Dreams in ‘Peach Blossom Spring’ ” (Zhemeng “Taohuayuan,” 折梦“桃花 源”, Shiyue, 4, 1998) and “Abundant ‘Grass on the Plain’ ”, Lili “yuanshangcao,” 离离原上草, Baihuazhou, 4, 1998). Together, they form Trilogy of Entering Chaos (1998). It becomes clear to the reader that many inmate characters are identifiable in the real people, reaffirming the verisimilitude of his memoir. This trilogy bears testimony to the Chinese gulag system, with all its horror, cruelty, and absurdity. It offers a penetrating look at those whose talent and devotion to the motherland were misinterpreted, condemned, and destroyed, and those who abused their power to inflict pain on others for benefit. There is a scene where the hungry inmates are cooking their shoes for food (reminiscent of Charlie Chaplin’s 1925 film The Gold Rush). In one scene, a casket without a bottom drops dead bodies into a grave. In another, an inmate is violently treated for three days and nights, only because, when he received a package from a friend, he was curious and said, “What the

devil is in the package?” When he opened it, it was a Mao badge, and someone reported this to a guard. The scoundrels bully Lü Ying (吕 荧 , 1915–1969, a translator of Shakespeare’s poetry involved in the case against Hu Feng [胡 风 , 1902–1985], who opposed Mao’s Yan’an Talks) and take away his typewriter and his manuscript until he dies a broken man. While depicting the horror of the labor camp, Cong Weixi also reflects upon the negative side of the Rightists (intellectuals) themselves and his own weaknesses.

Reconstructing Childhood and Youth In the midst of writing his labor-camp fiction, in 1982, Cong Weixi reworked his recovered novel manuscript Grass in the Northern Country (Bei guo cao, 北国草 ), which was lost during the Cultural Revolution. He began writing it in 1955. Its original title was The First Patch of Black Soil (Diyipian heitu, 第一片黑土), showing the influence of Mikhail Sholokhov’s Virgin Soil Upturned. When it appeared in book form in 1984, Cong Weixi received more than 1,000 letters from enthusiastic readers. Grass in the Northern Country actually anticipates the plot structure of later Zhiqing fiction about young people going to the borderland to serve the revolution. It follows the pattern of journey by train to the destination, adaptation to the new but harsh environment, conflicts among the characters, and a triumphant closure. The harnessing of the wilderness parallels the development of love and conflict among four pairs of young men and women. Despite their high spirits, they live under the watchful eyes of the party authorities. Struggle meetings are held regularly to criticize anything deemed deviant in light of the party policies. Rewriting the novel in the 1980s, Cong Weixi included his hindsight, for instance, his critique of the so-called “class background theory.” As revealed in history, many of these projects turned out to be futile. The cultivation of the Sanjiang Plain (三江平原)—the geographical setting of the novel—has in fact resulted in an ecological disaster. Cong Weixi could have used his hindsight more critically in the novel. Cong Weixi’s autobiographical novel Naked Snow (Luoxue, 裸雪, 1994) departs greatly, in content and style, from his labor-camp fiction. The novel is refreshing: it reconstructs Cong Weixi’s childhood world during the Nationalist period and, thus, is void of communist rhetoric. The novel


contains strikingly rich local customs: the rituals of welcoming and sending away the kitchen god, the door god, the wine goddess, and gods of other professions, as well as summoning the soul of the dead. It also describes in detail local handicrafts and businesses such as blacksmiths, wineries, and bean-curd shops(pp. 58–59).7 The growing child’s changing vision is sometimes intercepted by the narrator’s hindsight, endowing the novel with a retrospective angle. It is admirable that, after so much suffering in labor camps, Cong Weixi is still able to write from the perspective of the innocent mind and emotions of a child and see the world as a child sees it. Cong Weixi mainly published novellas and novels in the 1980s. In 1990, he completed a series of 20 short stories under the umbrella title “Drinking Soul Going West” (Jiuhun xixing, 酒魂 西行), which deal with the lives of ordinary people in an increasingly commercialized society. However, the series did not attract much attention. In Cong Weixi’s preface to the Trilogy of Entering Chaos, he says, as ordinary a person as he is, it would not have been possible for him to write anything significant without the labor-camp experience. The truth is that he did not have to undergo that suffering. However, despite Cong Weixi’s limitations—his narrow view of patriotism and his treating suffering as a test of spiritual transcendence—he has secured his position in the company of autobiographers and writers who are

able to transform the crude facts of history into artistic structures. His gulag tales will remain an important contribution to Chinese literature.

Notes 1. Cong Weixi, “Wo de diyipian xiaoshuo” (我的第一 篇小说, My First Story), in Dong Dazhong 董大中, Cai Runtian 蔡润田, Lü Wenxing 吕文幸 (Eds.), Wo de Diyipian Xiaoshuo (我的第一篇小说, My First Story). Beijing: Zhongguo wenlian chuban gongsi, 1986, pp. 294–298; the story appears on pp. 298–300. 2. See Cong Weixi, preface to Zouxiang Hundun (走向混沌, Entering Chaos). Hong Kong: Tiandi tushu gongsi, 1990, pp. 11–14. 3. Helmut Martin, “I Am Not Solzhenitsyn: From an Eyewitness of the Labor Camps,” in Modern Chinese Writers: Self-portrayals. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1992, pp. 20–25. 4. Published in Cong Weixi wenji (丛维熙文集, Collected Works of Cong Weixi). Beijing: Huayi chubanshe, 1996, vol. 5, pp. 1–85. 5. Published in Cong Weixi wenji, vol. 3, pp. 1–435. 6. Published in Cong Weixi wenji, vol. 5, pp. 307–359. 7. Cong Weixi, Luoxue (裸雪, Naked Snow). Beijing: Huayi chubanshe, 1994.

Translations into English “The Blood-stained Magnolia,” Chinese Literature, April (1980): 3–56. “I Am Not Solzhenitsyn: From an Eyewitness of the Labor Camps” (trans. Yingjin Zhang), in Helmut Martin (ed.), Modern Chinese Writers: Self-portrayals. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1992, pp. 20–25.

D DAI HOUYING (戴厚英, 1938–1996) From Fervent Red Guard to Critic of Mao Among contemporary Chinese writers, Dai Houying’s life was one of the most dramatic, controversial, and tragic. She came from a small town in Anhui Province, but attended university in Shanghai; she was a fierce rebel in the Cultural Revolution, but fell deeply in love with a “bourgeois” romantic poet; she was an ultra-leftist theorist against humanitarianism, but later she confessed and became its active promoter through fiction; she was a filial daughter and pride of her clan, but she was killed by a young man from her native place; she was an atheist but, in her last years, she converted to Buddhism. Dai Houying was born into a poor family in Nanzhaoji (南赵集), an ancient township in Yingshang County (颍上县), Anhui Province. Her father operated a small grocery store, and her mother was illiterate. She was the first member of the family to receive a higher education. After she completed middle school, in 1956, she enrolled in the East China Normal University (华东师范大学) in Shanghai, majoring in Chinese literature. In 1957, her father was labeled a Rightist in the AntiRightist Campaign. It was probably thanks to her father’s political problems that Dai Houying, eager to be accepted, was so enthusiastic in following the party line. In 1960, before Dai Houying graduated from university, a 49-day meeting was launched by the Shanghai Writers’ Association to denounce the so-called bourgeoisie and their revisionist literary thought. One of the targets was Qian Gurong

(钱谷融, b. 1919), a professor and theoretician of East China Normal University known for his article “On ‘Literature as a Discipline of Human Beings’ ” (Lun ‘Wenxue shi ren xue,’ 论“文学是人 学” 1956). Dai Houying, an eloquent speaker, became a member of the “newborn force of literary and artistic theoretical frontline” (wenyi lilun zhanxian shang de xinsheng liliang, 文艺理论战线 上的新生力量). At a meeting, she made a strong attack on Qian Gurong’s idea of humanism, calling him by the name, which shocked him and the audience (p. 53).1 This action gained her the nickname “little steel canon” (xiao gang pao, 小钢炮, p. 100).2 Upon graduation from university, she was assigned to the Theory and Criticism Section of the Shanghai Writers’ Association. In the mid-1960s, she was selected for the Revolution Leading Group (geming lingdao xiaozu, 革命领导 小组), a propaganda unit under the Shanghai Municipal Party organization. On the eve of the Cultural Revolution, she was temporarily seconded to Beijing to participate in the criticism of films such as Early Spring in February (Zaochun eryue, 早春二月, 1965) for their alleged “petty-bourgeois and humanistic tendencies.” Dai Houying soon lost her glamour. On the eve of the Cultural Revolution, because of the innerparty struggles in Shanghai, she was marginalized and was under investigation. At the same time, her husband (also from her middle school) wanted a divorce. Actually, after Dai Houying graduated from university, she was assigned to work in Shanghai, whereas her husband was sent to work in Wuhu (芜湖), Anhui Province. Her repeated applications for transfer were denied. An encounter would soon change Dai Houying’s life. During the 1968 campaign to attack “revisionism” and “bourgeois mentality,”


Dai Houying was assigned to investigate the case of well-known poet Wen Jie (闻捷, 1923–1971). In the course of her investigation, she became sympathetic to him. After Wen Jie’s wife committed suicide following a raid by Red Guards, Dai Houying was responsible for informing him of the tragedy and contacted his three teenage daughters. Later, Dai Houying and Wen Jie were assigned to the same May Seventh Cadre School. They fell in love. When they applied to get married, their work unit rejected their application, on the pretext that the May Seventh School was supposed to be a place of thought reform. Back in Shanghai, denunciation meetings were held against Wen Jie for “eroding the mind of a revolutionary.” After a fierce mass denunciation meeting in Shanghai, Wen Jie committed suicide.3 Dai Houying was devastated. In the following years, she kept a low profile and started her own soul-searching journey. After Mao’s death, she became one of the earliest critics of Maoist ideology, particularly on the issues of humanism and alienation. Her works aroused great controversies. Ever since Dai Houying began working in Shanghai, she had been the sole supporter of her parents and siblings. As a filial daughter, she sent back most her salary and lived frugally. To her home villagers, Dai Houying was a model of success. She was very concerned about the wellbeing of her fellow villagers. For instance, she raised funds after a big flood in 1990. After retirement, she had planned to return to her hometown to promote education. Unfortunately, on August 25, 1996, she, along with her niece, was murdered by her middle-school teacher’s grandson, who had sought help many times.

The “Human Trilogy”: Marxist humanism in question In early 1978, seven years after Wen Jie’s suicide, when asked by her close friend Gao Yun (高云) to provide information about Wen Jie for a research project, Dai Houying poured out her memories of him in four notebooks (p. 3).4 This would become the starting point of her writing career as a novelist. She expanded her notes of 50,000 words to Gao Yun and, in less than two months, completed the 450,000-word novel Death of a Poet (Shiren zhi si, 诗人之死, 1978). However, it was rejected for publication. This novel actually predated Lu Xinhua’s (卢新华) groundbreaking short story “The Scar” (Shanghen, 伤痕, also trans-

lated as “The Wound”), which appeared on August 11, 1978, in Wenhui Daily in Shanghai. Noteworthily, the artistic standard of Death of a Poet was far superior to that of “The Scar.” In this thinly veiled fictionalized account of Dai Houying’s relationship with Wen Jie and his tragic death, one sees the brutal political interference with an individual. The narrative is focalized through Xiang Nan (向南), Dai Houying’s fictionalized self. The use of four long, personal letters from Xiang Nan to her close girlfriend, in another city, allows deeper revelations of the changes taking place in her attitude towards Yu Ziqi (余子 期, Wen Jie’s disguise), from a Maoist propagandist one to a humanitarian one. The indictment against the state apparatus’s (represented by the work unit) brutal suppression of individual freedom in love and marriage comes out strongly. The vivid depiction of intrigues, lies, and betrayals among members is revealing of the literary circles during the Cultural Revolution. In two months, Dai Houying finished her second novel, Human, ah, Human (Ren, a, Ren, 人啊!人 [translated as Stones of the Wall], 1980; pp. 161–165),5 which was published by the more liberal Huacheng Press in Guangzhou (Canton). The novel immediately became a big hit and was reprinted ten times, totaling more than 1 million copies. It was quickly translated into English, French, German, Russian, Japanese, and Korean. Dai Houying was finally allowed to publish her first novel, Death of a Poet. Dai Houying was not happy at work. She taught at Shanghai University, then a branch of Fudan University, but spent a few years as a visiting professor at Shantou University. The play Stones of the Wall was performed in Hong Kong in 1985 and 1986, by the Zhiqun Drama Troupe. She was invited to visit a number of countries, including West Germany and the United States. Set in a university, Stones of the Wall (1980) deals with the negative consequences experienced by those intellectuals (professors) who persecuted others or were persecuted during the 1957 AntiRightist Campaign. However, after the death of Mao, both victims and victimizers are back in the same work unit. Some reflect upon their past mistakes, whereas others find excuses. Instead of adopting the linear development of conventional realism, Dai Houying experiments with stream of consciousness, dreams, and multiple internal monologues, while maintaining the momentum of the main plot. The plot line progresses, not


through the narration of the omniscient narrator, but through the internal monologues of the key characters. Sun Yue (孙悦), the female protagonist, functions as a key link to the other characters. He Jingfu (何荆夫), the hero, was condemned as a Rightist for supporting a classmate who had been refused permission to go overseas to attend to his ailing mother. He Jingfu was expelled from university and, from then onwards, lived a vagabond life, only to return after Mao’s death. The main theme—the call for humanitarianism—repeatedly appears in the dialogues between He Jingfu and the other characters. As Dai Houying said in her afterword to the novel: Every method I adopt will press toward my own goal: to express my understanding and ideals for “humankind.” For this reason, I will concentrate all my energy on portrayals of my characters’ souls. I will let each of my characters stand up and open his or her heart, exposing the infinitely complex world harbored there. (p. 32)6 According to a Western critic, though Dai Houying’s narrative technique is not at all Joycean or even Woolfish, “she does succeed in presenting the inner workings of her characters’ minds in a manner quite unusual for modern Chinese fiction in the communist era.”7 After its publication, Dai Houying received a large number of enthusiastic letters. Yet, Dai Houying became a target of attack in the 1983 nationwide “Anti-spiritual Pollution Campaign.” She was relieved of her teaching duties on the pretext of her “pernicious, bourgeois thoughts.” However, this made her even better known in China and abroad. In 1985, Dai Houying completed her semiautobiographical novel Sound of Footsteps in the Air (Kongzhong de zuyin, 空中的足音), which forms the third part in the “Human Trilogy.” The thinly veiled female protagonist Yun Jialuo (云嘉 洛), after being attacked because of her work by colleagues in a provincial university, transfers back to her home town to teach in the ironically named Peace City Normal College (Ningcheng Shifan Xueyuan, 宁城师范学院). The novel begins with a metaphorical reference to Tao Yuanming (陶渊明, 365–427 AD), a Jin dynasty poet abandoning an official career to return to a simple rural life. However, the normal college is staffed by

shallow, envious, dogmatic colleagues, some of whom are the female protagonist’s old classmates and friends who feel threatened by her achievements. Only her high-principled former teacher Meng Yueru (孟跃如) shares her ideals, philosophy, and pain. Through the contemplations and dialogues between the two, Dai Houying highlights issues such as humanitarianism, the ideal of the traditional “scholar” (shi) and Zhuangzi’s (庄 子) philosophy of life. Besides the “Human Trilogy,” Dai Houying’s Brain Split (Nao lie, 脑裂, 1993) is also concerned with Chinese intellectuals, though without the obvious autobiographical elements. The novel Brain Split is a campus fiction set in the early 1990s, when many poorly paid, unhappy intellectuals began to “plunge into the sea” (xia hai, 下海), a euphemism for doing business, or making extra money outside the profession. With the addition of this novel, Dai Houying had actually written a tetralogy about Chinese intellectuals. Unlike the intellectual characters seeking the essence of humanism in Stones of the Wall, here, these university teachers are suffering from paranoia and post-traumatic syndrome. The arrogant protagonist Gong Yang (公羊), a superfluous man, is a victim of such a syndrome. He is eager to be promoted to be an associate professor, but he fears he cannot pass the new English proficiency test. In the mean time, he finds it difficult to resist the temptation of the market, or the sexy woman in a red dress. The motif of the split brain recurring in the dreams and fantasies of Gong Yang’s wife also metaphorically spreads to other colleagues as an epidemic. Gong Yang’s death of an incurable decease becomes a prophetic symbol of China’s intellectual life with the new economic tide.

The Huai River: Short stories and an unfinished trilogy Like many Chinese writers of rural origin, Dai Houying maintained close contact with her hometown. She visited her hometown almost every Chinese New Year and identified herself as “daughter of the Huai River.” In the preface to her first fiction collection, Soft Chains (Suolian, shi rouruan de, 锁链, 是柔软的, 1982), she said, “My hometown has an old and twisting history, and an inexhaustible supply of characters and stories.” In unadorned diction, she presents a number of portraits from her hometown. She depicts a shaman who falls from a high position in the


community in the Republican period to become a persecuted class enemy in the People’s Republic after 1949 (“Misty Moonlight,” Yuese menglong, 夜色朦胧); an old nanny who has devoted her life to raising the children of others but is left alone in old age (“Portrait,” Diaoxiang, 雕 像 ); an unjustly treated Rightist who cannot get his deserved retroactive pay (“Goodman An Rusi,” Haoren Ai Rusi, 好人安如斯); and an illiterate widow who is doubly chained, by conventional norms that do not approve of widows remarrying and by a slavish attitude towards officials (“Soft Chains,” Suolian shi rouruan de, 锁链,是柔软的). Dai Houying expanded her hometown stories in two short historical novels, The Unforgettable Past (Wangshi nanwang, 往事难忘, completed in 1986) and The Cycle (Fengshui lunliu, 风水轮流, completed in January 1989). Both works were published in Hong Kong and, after her death, appeared in one book, under the title of Tears of the Huai River (Liulei de Huai he, 流泪的淮河, 1999) in China. She originally planned to write a trilogy, but it was left unfinished because of her death. Dai Houying wanted to “honestly record the good and the bad” of people along the Huai River. The first novel, The Unforgettable Past, contains five chapters and 41 sections, covering the lives of the Li (李) and Gu (顾) families in Precious Temple Township (Baotaji, 宝塔集) on the Huai River, from the Republican period to 1965, the eve of the Cultural Revolution. During the Republican period, the characters’ fates are heavily affected by the Huai River, which frequently floods the region, causing many human tragedies, such as the selling and buying of orphans and the drowning of female babies. The lives of the people are, to a large extent, governed by Confucian thinking, folk songs, and customs. With the Communist victory, people’s lives continue to be devastated by the Huai River, though to a lesser degree, owing to large water projects. Their suffering continues, however. People have to adapt to the new ideologies, which bring one political campaign after another. The community is artificially divided into classes, and people are split apart by political divisions. The second novel, The Cycle, is the continuation of the first novel. In six chapters and 44 sections, it covers the catastrophic period of the Cultural Revolution, from 1966 to the fall of the Gang of Four in 1976. The first-person narrator, Li Cui (李翠), is Dai Houying’s thinly disguised self, who bears critical witness to the shifting

fates of the people of her hometown in the turbulent history of the 20th century. Dai Houying’s large number of essays reflects her life’s journey. They were put together posthumously in a three-volume collection entitled Complete Essays of Dai Houying (Dai Houying suibi quanbian, 戴厚英随笔全编, 1999) and a separate collection entitled Humanism and Buddhist Karma (Rendao yu Foyuan, 人道与佛缘, 1999). Dai Houying’s essay “Karma in Xuedou Temple” (Jieyuan Xuedou Si, 结缘雪窦寺), which details her gradual recognition of the value of religion, is particularly significant. As she said, she wanted to “try to understand if there is a soul; where do I come from, and where do I go eventually?” (p. 221).8 Following a seven-day retreat in the Xuedou Temple (雪窦寺), she converted to Buddhism (p. 229). Dai Houying’s spiritual transformation was unusual in view of the fact that she was once a fervent, atheist Red Guard. It was unfortunate that she was not able to produce more work after her conversion. Dai Houying’s writing career epitomizes the many twists and turns in contemporary Chinese literature. As a provocative writer with a strong individuality, she distinguished herself as one of the foremost critics in the process of deMaoization. After the mid-1980s, her work was largely ignored by critics for unclear reasons. She left seven novels, two collections of short stories and essays, as well as half an autobiography and a collection of letters between herself and her daughter Dai Xing (戴醒), who went to study in the United States.

Notes 1. Qian Gurong (钱谷融), “Guanyu Dai Houying” (关 于戴厚英 , About Dai Houying), Dangdai zuojia pinglun (当代作家评论), 1, 1997, pp. 53–55. 2. Gao Yun (高云), “Wo he Dai Houying de xiangshi, xiangzhi” (我和戴厚英的相识、相知, My Knowledge of and Friendship with Dai Houying), in Dai Houying’s posthumous work, Xinzhong de fen: zhi youren de xin (心中的坟:致友人的信, Grave in My Heart: Letter to a Friend). Shanghai: Fudan Daxue chubanshe, 1996, pp. 99–120. 3. For the account of Dai Houying and Wen Jie, see Dai Houying, Xinzhong de fen: zhi youren de xin, ibid., pp. 7–95. Wen Jie killed himself by turning on the gas. 4 . Dai Houying, Xinzhong de fen, ibid., pp. 3–6. 5. For an account of Dai Houying’s writing of the novel, see Wu Zhongjie (吴中杰), “Yi Dai Houying” (忆戴 厚英, Remembering Dai Houying), in Dai Houying’s Xinzhong de fen, ibid., pp. 121–171.


6. “On Behalf of Humanism: The Confession of a Former Leftist” (trans. Frances LaFleur, published in Helmet Martin and Jeffrey Kinkley (eds.), Modern Chinese Writers: Self-Portrayals. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1992, pp. 27–33. 7. Michael Duke, Blooming and Contending: Chinese Literature in the Post-Mao Era. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1985, p. 153. 8. Dai Houying, “Jieyuan Xuedousi” (结 缘 雪 窦 寺 , Karma in Xuedou Temple), in her Rendao yu foyuan (人道与佛缘, Human Ways and Buddhist Karma). Shanghai: Shanghai renmin chubanshe, 1999, pp. 218–235.

Translations into English “Father’s Milk Is also Blood Transformed” (trans. Jeannette Faurot), in Michael S. Duke (ed.), Contemporary Chinese Literature: An Anthology of Post-Mao Fiction and Poetry. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1985, pp. 25–29. Stones of the Wall (trans. Frances Wood). New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1985. “The Vagabond: He Jingfu,” in Geremie Barmé and John Minford (eds.), Seeds of Fire: Chinese Voices of Conscience. New York: Hill & Wang, 1988, pp. 153–160. “On Behalf of Humanism: The Confession of a Former Leftist” (trans. Frances LaFleur), in Helmut Martin and Jeffrey Kinkley (eds.), Modern Chinese Writers: Self-Portrayals. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1992, pp. 26–33.

DENG YOUMEI (邓友梅, B. 1931) Re-imaging Old Beijing Deng Youmei is a representative writer of the “Beijing School” (jing pai, 京派), which refers to writers whose works are characterized by the portrayal of Beijing and its people, from old times to the present, with their local dialects, customs, and mentality. In view of the destruction of traditional culture after 1949, and especially during the Cultural Revolution, Deng Youmei has played a significant role in the preservation of old Beijing through his writing. Deng Youmei had a turbulent life. His povertystricken parents were from Pingyuan County (平 原 县 ), Shandong Province. Two of his elder brothers starved to death, and one had to be sold. His parents moved to Tianjin (天津), where Deng Youmei was born. When he was 12, his unemployed parents returned to their home village, leaving him alone in Tianjin to look for work. He

joined the communist Eighth Route Army of the Bohai District (渤海区) and worked as a messenger. When the Eighth Route Army was restructured, he lost his job. He was soon hired by a factory in Tianjin, but was unaware that he was to be shipped to a chemical factory in Japan. There he was forced to do hard labor under horrible conditions. In 1945, after Japan’s surrender, Deng Youmei returned to China. He reconnected with the New Fourth Army, then under the direction of General Chen Yi (陈毅, 1901–1972). Deng Youmei only had four years of formal education. In the next few years, through selfstudy, he worked his way up from a messenger to become a member of a cultural troupe and then an apprentice journalist. Following the army, he travelled extensively in the country and witnessed many battles of the Civil War. After much suffering as a Rightist, his name was finally cleared. He reemerged in 1979, won many prizes, and, in 1996, rose to be a vice-chairman of the Chinese Writers’ Association and the Chinese Union of Writers and Artists.

From a Reporter to a Rightist: Falling from a “cliff” In 1946, Deng Youmei published his first work, which was a “Cross Talk” (Xiangsheng, 相声) entitled “The National Representative” (Guo da daibiao, 国大代表).1 In the meantime, the reports he wrote about his journeys in war zones caught the attention of veteran woman writer Ding Ling (丁玲, 1904–1986) who wrote an appraisal of one of his pieces. Deng Youmei began writing fiction in 1951 and was mentored by prominent writer Zhao Shuli (赵树理, 1906–1970). In 1952, he entered the Central Literature Institute (中央文学 讲习所, later renamed Lu Xun Literary Institute, 鲁迅文学院)—the institution for training writers— where he was taught by Zhang Tianyi (张天翼, 1906–1985), a veteran writer from the May Fourth period.2 After he had completed two years of training, he became a full-time writer and quickly rose to be one of the most promising young writers in the People’s Republic. However, one story would change his fate. In 1955, responding to an invitation from an editor of the magazine Yalu River (Yalujiang, 鸭绿江) to write something new, Deng Youmei tried his hand at a love story, “On the Cliff” (Zai xuanya shang, 在悬崖上, Wenxue yuekan, 9, 1956).3 It concerns the extramarital relationship


of a professional, a sensitive theme at a time when literature was dominated by politically didactic works about workers, peasants, and soldiers. It first aroused a great deal of interest and won the Virgin Soil Award (Chunüdi wenxue jiang, 处女地 文学奖). It attracted the attention of well-known actor Zhao Dan (赵丹, 1915–1980), and two film studios even contacted him about the possibility of making it into a film. The narrative is engaging. It is structured as a story within a story. Unable to sleep, four technical experts who happen to share a dormitory take turns telling their own love stories. The protagonist recounts the story of his marriage and his extramarital romantic adventure. Tension is sustained throughout the text as to what will happen to him at the end. Two entirely different women are portrayed. His wife is a progressive party branch secretary of the Communist Youth League: frugal, dutiful, and caring, but lacking romantic feelings. He begins to drift away from her and is attracted to an entirely different woman, Jialia (加丽亚), a beautiful, wild Eurasian with Chinese and German parents. In the 1950s, dancing was a common entertainment among young people. The protagonist takes Jialia to dances and falls madly in love with her. He contemplates a divorce. The rhythm speeds up as the party-imposed moral element sets in. Jialia’s bright image evaporates when he discovers her licentious and untamed nature. Her mysterious background now adds justification for his retreat. The party wins the protagonist back to the proper track, as he finds out his wife is pregnant and he regrets he didn’t try to understand her. Despite the tameness of the story, Deng Youmei was attacked for spreading petty-bourgeois sentiments and was labeled a Rightist during the AntiRightist Campaign. Because his salary was reduced to only 7 yuan a month, he was unable to support his wife and children. The situation became so desperate that his wife divorced him. Deng Youmei was sent to labor reform. After his Rightist label was lifted in 1962, he was transferred to the Anshan Drama Troupe in Anshan City (鞍山市), Liaoning Province, but he was still not permitted to publish. During the Cultural Revolution, Deng Youmei was again severely attacked and was sent to work in the mountainous areas in Panjin District (盘锦区), Liaoning Province. During those trying years, the two things that saved him from despair were his wartime memories of survival

and his old habit of reciting the literary classics from memory. In the spring of 1976, aged 45, Deng Youmei was given permission to return to Beijing. The death of Mao and the fall of the Gang of Four turned a new page for China and for Deng Youmei. After being prevented from writing for more than two decades, he picked up his pen again. Deng Youmei was familiar with life in the army and the down-to-earth existence of construction workers. Moreover, because he had lived with a Manchu family during his childhood in Tianjin and with Manchu people again when he was in exile in Northeast China, he had ample knowledge of them. He also had a special interest in Beijing folklore, collecting artifacts whenever he could. All this formed rich sources for Deng Youmei’s writing. His best works come from three aspects: his youthful years during the war, his interactions with Manchu people, and his deep interest in Beijing folklore.

Return to the Literary Scene: War experiences and others In 1978, veteran Shanghai writer Ru Zhijuan (茹 志鹃, 1925–1998), who had been a fellow member of the New Fourth Army with Deng Youmei before 1949, encouraged him to write about his former commander Chen Yi. The result was the short story “Our Commander” (Women de junzhang, 我们的军长, Shanghai wenyi, 7, 1978). His vivid depiction of Chen Yi won him a National Best Short Stories award in 1978. This was followed by the award-winning novella “Women Soldiers Left Behind” (Zhuigan duiwu de nübing, 追赶队伍的女兵, Shiyue, 3, 1980), which opened a fresh direction in military fiction. It focuses neither on battle scenes nor heroic deeds, but on the journey of three lagging-behind female soldiers in their determined attempt to rejoin their army unit. The nightmarish year Deng Youmei spent in Japan as a forced laborer during the war had a deep impact on him. During his visit to Japan in the 1980s as a writer, he was finally able to revisit that past. His stories about that page of his life concern, not only hardship, but also cross-national friendship and peace. The best among them is the autobiographical novella “Goodbye, Seto Naikai” (Beile, Laihunei Hai, 别了, 濑户内海, Shouhuo, 6, 1981), which movingly interweaves the past and present. The first-person narrator Lu Hushi


(陆虎士), now a writer, comes to Japan at the invitation of a China–Japan Friendship Association. Through flashbacks, Deng Youmei depicts vividly the hard labor, hunger, and beatings, as well as the friendship with fellow workers, and contrasts these with the memory of the 16-year-old Japanese girlfriend whose anti-war brother died in Taihang Mountain (太行山), China. The narrative ends on a sad note: an old Japanese friend tells him that his beloved girlfriend died in Hiroshima in 1945. This is Deng Youmei’s most lyrical and emotional work, especially the segment on youthful love and death. Deng Youmei often fuses his travel experience with expatriate Chinese characters and their past history in China. In “A Strange Encounter in Paris” (Xiangfeng zai Bali, 相逢在巴黎, Renmin wenxue, 7–8, 1990), the writer Tao (陶) visits Paris and happens to encounter a Chinese boy lost in the street. Tao gets to know the boy’s family and learns about their cold attitude towards their motherland. To the father, who has been in Paris most of his life, China is a distant land. To the mother, who suffered greatly as the daughter of a landlord, China is a place that she declares she will never return to. That the narrator leaves without adding a “bright tail” shows Deng Youmei’s artistic integrity.

Eulogies for Unappreciated Talents, and Traditional Art During the Maoist period, workers, peasants, and soldiers were the only heroes in fiction. After Mao’s death, many different types of character began to return, ranging from long-ignored intellectuals and artists to idiosyncratic talents from the historical past. Deng Youmei’s portrayals of old artists and Manchu characters in Beijing are among the most unique. The short story “Taoran Pavilion” (Huashuo Taoran ting, 话说陶然亭, Beijing wenxue, 3, 1980) marks the beginning of Deng Youmei’s switch to writing about old Beijing. He uses Taoran Pavilion Garden, the historical garden of Beijing, as a site to witness the alienation between people caused by political suppression. Four marginalized intellectuals come here every morning to do exercises, yet they greet each other only by nicknames for fear that revelation of their true identities would lead to unnecessary political trouble. The Tian’anmen Incident in April 1976—a mass rally against the government’s suppressive rule—

compels them to unmask themselves. The narrative ends with the four men coming to the garden less and less, implying that their abilities are being put to use. More poignant is Deng Youmei’s 1981 story “Han the Forger” (Xufang “huaer Han,” 寻访“画 儿韩”),4 which laments the talents that are unappreciated because of political and personal prejudices. It focuses on two artists, Gan Ziqian (甘子 千) and Han (韩). During the Republican period, Han, who excelled in forging paintings, worked in a pawnshop. Gan had tricked Han into buying a forged painting. The story begins with Gan, now an official after Mao’s death, who is looking for artists to revive Chinese art. Gan actually had a chance to use Han before, but was reluctant to do so owing to that past incident and his jealousy. Gan now feels guilty and starts looking for Han. However, by the time he finds Han, he is too sick to work and soon dies. The message is clear: there is an urgency to respect and use people with talents before it is too late. The significance of Deng Youmei’s two most famous novellas, “Na Five” (Na Wu, 那五, Beijing wenxue, 5, 1982) and “Snuff Bottles” (Yanhu, 烟壶, Shouhuo, 1, 1984; film, 1989), lies partly in his fresh portrayals of marginalized Manchu characters in old Beijing, and partly in his skillful revival of authentic Chinese language, which had been contaminated by westernized and politicized rhetoric. Deng Youmei captures elements of decadence through the eccentric life of the impoverished Manchu nobleman Na Wu. Na Wu is a connoisseur of traditional culture, such as opera singing, painting, jewelry, and music. His life collapses with the fall of the Qing dynasty. Na Wu in some ways resonates with Ivan Goncharov’s superfluous hero Oblomov, only he is more astute in keeping up a good front (wearing his old, expensive outfit) and in making quick money (publishing a purchased novel manuscript). Na Wu’s naivety often leads him into trouble. In delineating Na Wu, Deng Youmei fuses humor, irony, and melancholy. The combined sense of nostalgic beauty and decline foregrounds this misfit against a brutal reality. Set in the Qing dynasty, the novella “Snuff Bottles” gives vivid details about the craft of making snuff bottles through eccentric characters and their dramatic encounters. Snuff bottles were introduced to China by Italian missionary Matteo Ricci (利玛窦, 1552–1610) during the Ming period.


The crafts of making snuff bottles and of internal painting were later developed into a sophisticated art. Nie Zixuan (聂子轩), a poor apprentice, is married to the daughter of the master of snuff bottles. However, the narrow-minded father-inlaw only passes the art of internal painting to Nie Zixuan and passes the art of burning to his daughter, who later would pass it on to her daughter. When Nie is imprisoned by a despotic nobleman, Ninth Master, he is afraid that his art of internal painting will be lost if he dies. After many twists and turns, Nie passes on his craft to fellow inmate Wu Changan (乌长安), a Manchu, and tells him to find his daughter when he is released from prison. The art of making snuff bottles is eventually preserved, with Wu marrying the daughter. With the destruction of traditional culture by the Cultural Revolution, works such as “Snuff Bottles” are stirring tales about the preservation of traditional culture. Deng Youmei has reconstructed a panorama of lost glory through concrete descriptions of old Beijing—the scenic spots, the restaurants, the temples, the theatres, the markets, and the entertainment quarters. He has achieved, to a certain extent, his aims of constructing his stories based on common people living their lives according to their needs and tempers, all of which is reminiscent of Zhang Ziduan’s (张择端, 1085– 1145) famous panoramic painting, “Qingming Festival by the Bian River” (Qingming shanghe tu, 清明上河图). With his busy schedule as a highranking cultural official in the Chinese Writers’ Association, Deng Youmei has not written as much as he had wanted. Yet, what he has written has made a mark in contemporary Chinese literature.

Notes 1. “Cross Talk” refers to a humorous dialogue between two comedians. The story appeared in Ge yu ju zazhi (歌与剧杂志, Songs and Plays Magazine), October, 1946. 2. See preface (June 1980), Deng Youmei duanpian xiaoshuo xuan (邓友梅短篇小说选, Selected Short Stories by Deng Youmei). Beijing: Beijing chubanshe, 1981, pp. 1–5. 3. Published in Chongfang de xianhua (重放的鲜花, Fragrant Flowers Bloom Again). Shanghai: Shanghai wenyi chubanshe, 1979, pp. 129–161. 4 . Published in Deng Youmei xiaoshuo jingxuan (邓友梅小说精选 , Best Stories by Deng Youmei). Chengdu: Sichuan renmin chubanshe, 1999, pp. 168–183.

Translations into English “Han the Forger” (trans. Song Shouquan), Chinese Literature, June (1982): 76–89; also in Best Chinese Stories, 1949–1989. Beijing: Chinese Literature Press, 1989; and in Carolyn Choa and David Su Li-qun (eds.), The Vintage Book of Contemporary Chinese Fiction. New York: Vintage Books, 2001, pp. 191–204. “Snuff-bottles” (trans. Gladys Yang), Chinese Literature, Autumn (1985): 3–79. Snuff-Bottles and Other Stories (trans. Gladys Yang). Panda Books, 1986. “Na Five” (chaps. 5–10, trans. Gladys Yang), in Bian Ying (ed.), The Time Is Not Yet Ripe: Contemporary China’s Best Writers and Their Stories. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1991, pp. 48–77; also trans. by Gladys Yang as “Na Wu” in Jianing Chen (ed.), Themes in Contemporary Chinese Literature. Beijing: New World Press, 1993, pp. 35–76. “Old Stories from a Narrow Alley” (trans. Wang Zhiguang), in Street Wizards and Other New Folklore. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 2009, pp. 173–207.

E No entries.

F FANG FANG (方方, B. 1955) Constructing the “Landscape” of Wuhan Fang Fang emerged on the Chinese literary scene in 1987 with the publication of her landmark work “Landscape” (Fengjing, 风景, also translated as “The View” and “Children of the Bitter River,” Dangdai zuojia, 5, 1987), which pioneered, along with Chi Li’s “Trial and Tribulations” (Fannao rensheng, 烦恼人生, Shanghai wenxue, 8, 1987), a trend known as New Realism, stressing the truthful representation of ordinary people’s everyday life in urban cities. Equally significant is Fang Fang’s compassionate, yet detached, representation of Chinese intellectuals. Fang Fang’s works are generally set in Wuhan and characterized by a distinct regional color, with local people, dialect expressions, city scenes, and history of Wuhan, making her a representative writer of regional literature with a “Wuhan flavor” (han wei, 汉味). Her narration is characteristically well controlled and often fused with wit, humor, and irony. In the first decade of the 21st century, she has expanded her time range from the contemporary period to the early 20th century. Though her ancestral home was Pengze County (彭泽县), Jiangxi Province, Fang Fang was born in Nanjing and grew up in Wuhan (武汉), Hubei Province. Her grandfather was a traditional scholar and was killed by the Japanese, and her father was a hydraulic engineer. Their personalities in trying times made a great impact on her writing. During the Cultural Revolution, still in her teenage years, Fang Fang worked for four years as a loader. This experience opened her eyes to the

living conditions of the disadvantaged. Many of her early works are derived from this stage of her life. When the university system reopened in 1977, Fang Fang entered Wuhan University, majoring in Chinese literature. After graduation in 1982, she was assigned to be an editor at Hubei Television. In 1989, she became a professional writer. Currently, she serves as chairperson of the Hubei Writers’ Association and is among the most outspoken writers.

Stories Drawn from Her Work Experience Fang Fang’s first short story, “On the ‘Caravan’ ” (“Da pengche” shang,“大蓬车”上, 1982),1 written in her third year at university, drew attention for its lively depiction of marginal youths. It is a simple story with a positive message. Several young loaders take a truck to work every day. In the same truck is a quiet and studious young woman who observes their noisy complaints, jokes, and self-deprecating dialogue. She does not join in their conversations, but focuses on her reading, despite their sarcastic remarks. The twist occurs when they unexpectedly find out that she is an amateur writer, and she has embellished their conversations in her popular essay, an act that puts them to shame and makes them seriously reflect on their cynicism towards life. Over the next few years, Fang Fang continued to draw material from her own work experience. Her early short stories are characterized by a youthful optimism, despite the rough and tough life as loaders. “Oh, Friends” (Ah, pengyou, 啊, 朋友 , completed August, 1982)2 depicts how friendship transcends social gaps. An arrogant, educated woman is assigned to work in a loading company. Initially, she keeps a distance from her


fellow workers, but, after learning that they are deeply concerned about her, she comes to appreciate their friendship. “On the Other Side of the River” (Jiang neiyibian, 江那一边, completed spring 1985)3 is more sophisticated. The female protagonist dreams of visiting the other side of the river. When she eventually gets there with the help of a friend, she is disillusioned. As life moves on, she comes to accept what she has and gives up her vanity. In “Hunter” (Lieren, 猎人, completed in autumn 1985),4 Fang Fang experiments with the use of the “you” narratee to express the female narrator’s love for her paralyzed boyfriend. In “A Story of Searching” (Xunzhao de gushi, 寻找的故 事 , completed in autumn 1983),5 Fang Fang mocks the manufacture of a propaganda hero. One day, when the bus suddenly stops, Jin Jian (金剑) grabs the hand of a thief who happens to be stealing a bag. Jin Jian is absurdly made into a hero for political reasons, first at the factory level, then by higher levels of the bureaucracy. He has to give interviews to newspapers and make speeches on the radio and television, until he loses himself and his friends. The novella “A Tale of Huanzita” (Xianhua Huanzita, 闲话宦子塌, 1987)6 remains Fang Fang’s only work set in rural China. It was written in summer 1985, when the literary trend of rootsearching was on the rise. The novella was based on the folk songs and local materials Fang Fang found when she went to the countryside with a filming group from her work unit (Hubei Television). It departs drastically from her early stories, both in subject matter and style. Fang Fang explores how a small, unintentional mistake could change the path of one’s life. One evening, the female protagonist wants to express her feelings to her beloved by singing the folk song “Yearning for Ten Favorite Lovers” (xiang shi lang, 想十郎). These ten favorite lovers are either rich or in high positions. She has meant to finish the song first and add a line saying that she does not love any of those ten, but him. However, the self-conscious male protagonist flees, even before she finishes the song. Life takes a different course for them from this point onward. A year later, she marries another man, who turns out to be impotent. The male protagonist also marries. They secretly rekindle their love, and she gives birth to four children. The tension of the narrative builds up as they both try to prevent an incestuous relationship between his grown-up daughter and her son. Fang Fang skillfully combines folk literature

with the age-old customs and their tragic implications with an artistic distance.

Faces of the Disadvantaged In 1986, Fang Fang was betrayed by a friend whom she had mentored. She was shocked and hurt, and, from then onward, her writing entered a new phase. The optimism found in her early works was to be replaced by elements of sarcasm and pessimism. The novella “White Dream” (Bai meng, 白梦, 1987)7 marked this change. It depicts, in a witty rhetoric, the alienation of human relationships through the eyes of a once-innocent female reporter who gradually realizes the subtle bribery, lying, and back-stabbing in her work unit. Fang Fang applies a similarly witty style in another two novellas of the cycle, “White Fog” (Bai wu, 白雾, 1987) and “White Horse” (Bai ju, 白驹, 1988).8 Fang Fang’s landmark novella “Landscape” (Fengjing, 风景, 1987)9 brought her critical acclaim and won a National Best Novellas award. Fang Fang gives a stark account of the life of a povertystricken coolie’s family in Hankou (汉 口 , a constituent part of Wuhan)—a taboo topic in Maoist socialist literature. The unusual use of a dead child as the first-person narrator is striking. He goes in and out of the minds of the rough, abusive father, promiscuous mother, and his eight quarrelsome siblings, growing up in a crowded space of 13 square meters. Straightforward and pungent, the narrative unfolds the lives of the brothers and sisters chronologically—elder brother quits school at fourth grade, second brother commits suicide, fifth and sixth brothers become street peddlers. The most impressive portrayal is that of the seventh brother, whose personality is so warped by such a deprived upbringing that he can never heal. He sleeps under the bed, gathers vegetables for food for eight years, and is constantly humiliated in school. His heart is so hardened that he leaves home to join the Rustication Movement without leaving any contact information. His good fortune of being recommended to attend university toward the end of the Cultural Revolution does not change his cynical attitude toward life. In order to rise in officialdom, he abandons his girlfriend (daughter of a professor) to marry an older, frivolous woman—daughter of a high-ranking official— whom he does not truly love. The portrait of the seventh brother is one of the most memorable in contemporary Chinese literature.


When Fang Fang was asked if she used this novella deliberately to counteract the rising Avantgarde Literature at the time, she replied that, in the 1980s, many Chinese writers were eager to experiment with innovative narrative techniques, and she was just trying to represent life more accurately. She stressed that no matter which label she was given, good fiction should be readable, and that was what she had been striving to achieve. She also stressed that, though form was important, she paid particular attention to the fates of the characters and the relationship between them and society (p. 156).10 Indeed, Fang Fang’s fiction captures the cruelty of existence at the everyday level. Family dysfunction as a sign of moral decline is powerfully and chillingly depicted in the novella “Setting Sun” (Luori, 落日, 1991).11 It begins with the unsuccessful suicide of an old woman who takes insecticide, leaving her near death. The narrative alternates flashbacks of her difficult life raising two sons with their present ungratefulness. What adds to her misery is the lack of work ethics in the hospital. The woman doctor, without checking the dying woman, consents and issues a death certificate to the sons, prematurely. The sons, instead of taking the mother home, take her to the crematorium. The cremators’ discovery that the mother is still alive leads to a criminal investigation into those involved. The sad twist of the plot is that, instead of feeling glad to be alive, the mother, realizing the truth, refuses to eat and dies, signifying total despair in humanity.

Revenge, Love and Predicaments Fang Fang likes to place her characters in an ironical situation of their own doing. “Performance Art” (Xingwei yishu, 行 为 艺 术 , 1992)12 is a dramatic paradox of revenge. Chief police officer Yang Gao (杨高) decides to open a cold case: who killed his father? When he eventually finds out that Ma Baiju (马白驹), a model middle-school teacher, is the murderer, he is thrown into a moral dilemma. It turns out that Ma Baiju was originally his mother’s fiancé. His father raped his mother and married her. For revenge, Ma Baijun killed his father. After the truth is exposed, Yang Gao’s mother loses her will to live. The fact that Yang Gao’s hair turns white overnight suggests that his victory is really a curse. Fang Fang’s pessimistic view of love blends with her disappointment in women’s blind love of their unfaithful lovers to the detriment of their own career, dignity, and even life. In “The Sinking

Ship” (Chuan de chenmo, 船的沉没, 1987),13 the female protagonist falls deeply in love with a man 18 years her senior, who has a melancholic personality. Despite her devotion to him, he succumbs to his domineering mother’s pressure to marry another woman. It is after his death that she gradually recovers from the nightmare. In the novella “Free Expression” (Suiyi biaobai, 随 意 表 白 , 1992),14 Yuyin (雨吟), a television anchor, is devastated when she finds out that her lover is already married and has a daughter. Taking advantage of her deep love for him, he selfishly asks her to stay as his mistress. What happens afterwards opens up a critical dimension of women’s self-destructive attitudes toward love. After escaping from the trap of being a “concubine,” Yuyin does not move on with her regained self, but leads a loose life to fill her emotional vacuum, which results in her contracting a venereal disease. The theme of a passionate woman abandoned by an evil man is expanded in Fang Fang’s later novel My Beginning is My End (Zai wo de kaishi shi wo de jieshu, 在我的开始是我的结束, Dajia, 3, 1999), in which the unsociable female protagonist Huang Suzi (黄苏子) encounters her classmate Xu Hongbign (许红兵) and has an affair with him. A flashback shows that, in middle school, she had turned over his obscene love letter to the authorities, which, without her knowledge, had led to Xu being severely punished. Xu now plots revenge by pretending to fall in love with her. When she discovers the truth, she is devastated and develops a double personality— a white-collar woman during the day and a prostitute at night. She is later killed by a customer, which symbolically ends her split identity, yet by another man. Despite having a modern education, the three female protagonists above cannot escape the tragic fate of wasting away for an unfaithful lover, a distant echo of Huo Xiaoyu (霍小玉), the heroine of the title tale in the Tang dynasty.

Intellectuals Under Siege The fate of intellectuals remains a favorite theme for Fang Fang. Her compassion for contemporary intellectuals is poignantly delineated in “Floating Clouds and Drifting Stream” (Xingyun liushui, 行云流水 , 1991) and its sequel “Nowhere to Escape” (Wuchu duntao, 无处遁逃, 1992).15 Set on a campus in the 1980s, both novellas are about professors whose teaching and research are made difficult by low pay, political interference, and lack of respect from society. Their pay is far less than


that of a student who has a side job fixing televisions. They cannot go to a conference without the leadership’s permission. Publishing is even harder, because, apart from censorship, no publisher wants to lose money on academic books. Moreover, their time is absurdly wasted on compulsory political study sessions and sessions singing revolutionary songs. The first novella begins and ends with the illness of Professor Gao Renyun (高人云), symbolizing the unhealthy situation of intellectuals. The second novella focuses on Professor Yan Hang (严航), who, in his devotion to research and publishing, has to rely on his wife’s income from singing in a nightclub. As the plot develops, he is even in danger of losing her to a wealthy businessman from Taiwan. Fang Fang’s highly acclaimed autobiographical novella “Grandfather in Father’s Eyes” (Zufu zai fuqin xinzhong, 祖父在父亲心中 , Shanghai wenxue, 4, 1990) is told in a serious tone and subtle style unseen in her other works. The author– narrator traces the tragic lives of her deceased grandfather and father; both were intellectuals. Her grandfather Wang Pijiang (汪辟疆), who knew five languages, was the compiler of the book Stories of Tang Dynasty (Tang ren xiaoshuo, 唐人小说). During World War II, he was killed for refusing to collaborate with the Japanese. His uprightness and heroic spirit were recorded in the local gazetteer. The grandfather’s noble personality and death had a great impact on her father. Grandfather was her father’s model. However, after 1949, continuous political repressions broke her father’s spirit. His time and energy were wasted on dealing with harassments and writing self-confessions. Her father died in a theatre after watching a killing scene (reminiscent of the grandfather’s death) in a war documentary. Why was her father unable to live up to her grandfather’s standard? The answer to this question contains Fang Fang’s political critique. In Fang Fang’s first novel, Chronicle of Black Mud Lake (Wunihu nianpu, 乌泥湖年谱, 2000), is a historical irony. It is a gripping account of how pervasive political repression destroys talents and their families, as well as national resources. From 1957 to 1966, a community of hydraulic engineers and related professionals moved from various cities to join the preparatory Yangtze River Dam project. Black Mud Lake was originally a lake, but the lake quickly disappeared because of the irrational land-reclamation policy. It is now solid land on which rows of houses were built for these professionals and their families. The symbolic dry

Black Mud Lake foreshadows the fate of the engineers and the project. Drawing from the prototypes of Fang Fang’s family, the protagonist Ding Ziheng (丁子恒) is a thinly veiled image of her father. The sense of authenticity is shown by the inclusion of actual documents, as Fang Fang said in an interview: “All the diary entries in the novel were written by my father; and all the exposure material was recorded by him” (p. 176).16 Structured chronologically from 1957 to 1966, each chapter unfolds a deepening pain, the absurdity of political harassment, and its impact on their lives. As more and more of Ding Ziheng’s friends are sent away to labor reform, he becomes increasingly timid and paranoid until he loses his mind. The tension of the narration reaches a climax when the Cultural Revolution breaks out, which leads to even more suicides. The dam project, which symbolizes the dream of patriotic talents, eventually shuts down.

Historical Novels: Royalty and betrayal In the first decade of the 21st century, Fang Fang expanded her subject matter to the early 20th century. Her novel Wuchang City (Wuchang cheng, 武昌城, 2006) is a fictional account of the 40-day siege in 1926 of the city. During these 40 days, fierce battles were fought between the Northern Expedition army and the warlord army, leading to the destruction of the city and massive numbers killed. Fang Fang does not pass historical judgment but depicts the idealism and devoted spirit of characters on both sides. The gripping novel Water under Time (Shui zai shijian zhixia, 水在时间之下, 2008) spans the period from the 1920s to the 1980s. It focuses on the prominent Shui (水, Water) family, owners of a teahouse, which was torn apart by greed, hatred, and war. The Shui family is a microcosm of a small feudal kingdom, where social and sexual inequality are manifested in the hierarchical structure between male (husband, son) and female (wife, concubine), masters and servants. The pivotal character who links these two groups is the Wuhan Opera performer Shui Shangdeng (水上灯), a daughter abandoned by the Shui family but brought up by a night-soil collector. Her fate is closely linked with the Wuhan Opera, because she is later sold to an itinerant opera troupe and gains her fame on stage. Her desire to avenge the Shui family is a motivating force of the plot. Fang Fang blends the lives of the characters with the art, ritual, and ethical codes of Wuhan Opera (Han ju, 汉剧).


Shui Shangdeng’s revenge is realized (her elder brother is killed by the Japanese thanks to her lies, his mother commits suicide, and her second brother becomes insane), but she begins to feel at a loss. After the war, for redemption, she takes the insane brother home. The reporter–narrator begins and ends the life story of Shui Shangdeng, giving it a cycle structure. The recurring image of a water drop, in the form of rain, fog, and flood, and in Shui Shangdeng’s nickname “Water Drop”, diminishes with her anonymous death in a hidden alley. Fang Fang’s position in contemporary Chinese literature rests heavily on her penetrating representation of “life as it is,” from slums to campuses. Her characteristic use of wit, humor, and irony, with underlying sympathy, whether dealing with the lowly dregs or ivory-tower academics, vibrates with a profound humanity. Not a feminist in the narrow sense, Fang Fang takes a transcendent position when viewing both sexes.

Notes 1. In Fang Fang wenji: Xiong’an (方方文集:凶案 , Collected Works by Fang Fang: Murder). Nanjing: Jiangsu wenyi chubanshe, 1995, pp. 3–17. 2. Ibid., pp. 18–39. 3. Ibid., pp. 143–155. 4. Ibid., pp. 198–218. 5. Ibid., pp. 57–72. 6. Published in Fang Fang zixuan ji (方方自选集). Hainan chubanshe, 2008, pp. 79–137. 7. In Fang Fang wenji: Baimeng (方 方 文 集 : 白 梦 , Collected Works of Fang Fang: White Dreams), pp. 1–61. 8. Ibid., pp. 63–111, 113–169. 9. In Fang Fang wenji: Fengjing (方 方 文 集 : 风 景 , Collected Works of Fang Fang: Scenery), pp. 1–75. 10. Ye Liwen (叶立文), “Wei ziji de neixin xiezuo: Fang Fang fangtan” (为自己的内心写作:方方访谈, Write for One’s Heart: An Interview with Fang Fang), in Chen Juntao (陈骏涛, ed.), Jingshen zhi lü: Dangdai zuojia fangtanlu (精神之旅:当代作家访谈录, Spiritual Journey: Interviews with Contemporary Chinese Writers). Nanning: Guanxi shifan daxue chubanshe, 2004, pp. 150–161. 11. In Fang Fang wenji: Fengjing, pp. 77–245. 12. Ibid., pp. 1–73. 13. In Fang Fang wenji: Baimeng (方 方 文 集 : 白 梦 , Collected Works of Fang Fang: White Dreams), pp. 171–240. 14. In Fang Fang wenji: Maifu (阅 读 也 是 需 要 训 练的, Collected Works of Fang Fang: Ambush), pp. 295–352. 15. In Fang Fang wenyi: Baimeng (方方文集:白梦 , Collected Works of Fang Fang: White Dreams), pp. 241–302, 303–360. 16. Fang Fang, “Yuedu yeshi xuyao xunlian de” (阅读也 是需要训练的, Reading Needs Training), collected in

Wang Xianneng (王宪能) and Chen Juntao (陈骏涛, eds.), Zuji: zhuming wenxuejia caifanglu (足迹:著名 文 学 家 采 访 录 , Traces: Interviews with Famous Writers). Beijing: Zhongguo gongren chubanshe, 2011, pp. 168–187.

Translations into English “Landscape” (trans. Anne-Marie Traeholt and Mark Kruger), in Contemporary Chinese Women Writers, II. Beijing: Chinese Literature Press, 1991, pp. 18–135; also trans. Batt Herbert under the title of Children of the Bitter River: A Novel. Norwalk, CT: Eastbridge Books, 2007. Three Novellas by Fang Fang, Contemporary Chinese Women Writers V. Beijing: Panda Books, 1996. “Hints” (trans. Ling Yuan), Chinese Literature, 2 (1997): 5–39; also trans. Ling Yuan, in Kwok-kan Tam, Terry Siu-han Yip, and Wimal Dissanayake (eds.), A Place of One’s Own: Stories of Self in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore. Hong Kong and New York: Oxford University Press, 1999, pp. 215–248. “Stakeout” (trans. Zhang Siyong), Chinese Literature, 2 (1997): 40–78; also in Contemporary Chinese Women Writers VII. Beijing: Chinese Literature Press, 1998. “Predestined” (trans. Zhang Siyong), Chinese Literature, 4 (1998): 11–39. Children of the Bitter River: A Novel (trans. Herbert Batt). Norwalk, CT: Eastbridge Books, 2007.

FENG JICAI (冯骥才, B. 1942) Rescuing Human Nature and Folk Culture Novelist, essayist, painter, art connoisseur, and cultural preservation activist, Feng Jicai is a writer with many talents and interests. Though his native place was Cixi County (慈溪县), Zhejiang Province, he was born into a wealthy family in Tianjin (天津). At junior middle school, he began taking private lessons in Chinese painting and won a prize at an exhibition for middle-school students. Over six feet tall, after graduation from middle school in 1960, he was recruited to play the center position in a professional basketball team in Tianjin. Knowing that it was not his long-term career, Feng Jicai devoted his spare time to painting, reading, and writing. In October 1961, after injury to the bones in his chest, he was happy to transfer to a street-run Books and Arts Association to paint imitations from the Song


dynasty. In 1974, he was assigned to work in the Arts and Crafts Factory. In 1975, he taught Chinese painting and art theories at a workers’ university, until he joined the Creative Writing and Criticism Division of the Tianjin Cultural Bureau. During all these years, he also researched folk art such as kites, clay sculpture, brick carving, paper cutting, and festival paintings, while collecting artifacts such as clay horses and clay human figures. In 1962, he started publishing essays on art. The strong impact of the Cultural Revolution made Feng Jicai seriously consider fiction writing. At the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, his parents were persecuted, their mansion was ransacked, and all their belongings were confiscated. He moved eight times until he found a small room in an old building. During the Cultural Revolution, so many people committed suicide by drowning that their bodies were lined up along the riverbank. Horrified by the scene, Feng Jicai began to ponder the reasons behind these suicides. He created stories about the dead and started telling his friends, improvising as if they were from foreign literature or films. With encouragement from his friends, he decided to write to bear witness to history for later generations. Feng Jicai recalls vividly the difficult situation of being a writer of conscience during the Cultural Revolution: I locked myself in my room and wrote in secret. I stopped writing whenever someone knocked at the door. I hid the papers here and there. If discovered, I would ruin not only myself, but also my family. When a campaign was being waged, I would hide my writing underneath the bricks in the backyard, or in the cracks of the stairs, or glued the papers together in layers and covered them with propaganda paintings, so that later I would be able to soak them in warm water and peel them out page by page. (p. 3)1 When he felt unsafe, he rolled the papers and inserted them into the crossbar of his bicycle (as described in his story “Hungarian Bicycle” (Xiongyali jiaotache, 匈牙利脚踏车, Xin’gang, 6, 1981). He became so nervous that he decided to burn his writings after memorizing them, or flush them down the toilet. By the time he actually began to publish, he had already written about 1 million words. This explains why his early stories show a high degree of artistry. This also explains why

Feng Jicai’s first published work was a novel, not a short story, as with most writers. In 1977, he and Li Dingxing 李定兴 co-authored and published the novel The Boxers (Yihetuan, 义和团). As the novel is set in the late Qing period, he felt safe. Feng Jicai sees the connection between the art of painting and the art of writing. One of his observations is that, “imagery in literature is similar to that in painting,” and that, “no matter in depicting people, objects and surroundings, one must be able to visualize them as real, only then one can begin writing.”2 Borrowing the term “poetic eye” (Shi yan, 诗眼)—the key imagery of a poem—from the aesthetics of classical Chinese poetry, he postulates that there is also “the eye of a story” (xiaoshuo zhiyan, 小说之眼). As a connoisseur of music, he likens a novel to a symphony, saying that the playing of musical instruments is like the interactions of different characters, and the variations are like the alternations of “denseness and sparseness, tension and relaxation, heaviness and lightness, climax and low ebb of a novel.”3 Though he agrees that there are values in “problem fiction” (wenti xiaoshuo, 问题小说), he does not refrain from pointing it out that these kinds of story are inevitably ephemeral.4 He stresses the exploration of human nature, which is of universal significance. He was among the first to enthusiastically respond to Gao Xingjian’s (高行健, 1982) book on modernist techniques. Feng Jicai’s most important works were written in the 1980s. Since the mid-1990s, he has devoted himself to the preservation of non-material culture. His fiction can be grouped into two categories: Scar Literature and cultural reflection.

The traumatized people Feng Jiecai was a pioneer in Scar Literature. In the second half of 1978, as the Chinese literary scene was beginning to relax, he completed the novella “Trauma” (Chuangshang, 创伤) and mailed it to the People’s Literature Press. While the editors were still debating whether it was politically safe to publish it, Lu Xinhua’s (卢新华) pioneering story “The Scar” (Shanghen, 伤痕) appeared on August 11, in the Wenhui Daily in Shanghai. As the Chinese title of “The Scar” (Shanghen, 伤痕) is similar to “Trauma” (Chuangshang, 创伤), Feng Jicai changed his title to “The Flower Strewn Path” (Puhua de qilu, 铺花的歧路). It appeared a few months later, in 1979, in the second issue of the literary magazine Harvest (Shouhuo, 收获).


“The Flower Strewn Path” attracted a great deal of attention from the reading public. Significantly, the novella form he used would soon become a favorite literary form for Chinese writers. Longer than a short story but shorter than a novel, it was particularly suitable for Chinese writers of this historical stage to capture in a timely way the great changes in society. “The Flower Strewn Path” was the first work to depict the fluctuating psychology of a female Red Guard, particularly her feelings of guilt and confession. Coincidence is effectively used to enhance the plot. Bai Hui (白慧) falls in love with Chang Ming (常鸣), whose mother died after being beaten by Red Guards. It happens that Bai Hui was one of the Red Guards, but Chang Ming does not know that. Bai Hui falls into psychological turmoil. For redemption, she leaves for Inner Mongolia to do hard labor, and later trains as a nurse to help the locals. In early 1979, this work was the first to reflect on Red Guard violence. The award winning story “Chrysanthemum” (Diaohua yandou, 雕花烟斗, Dangdai, 2, 1979) can be read as an allegory. Repetition is effectively used to enhance characterization and the structure of the narrative. The hypocritical artist Tang (唐), who excels at painting and carving tobacco pipes, is contrasted with Old Fan (老范), a sincere, art-loving gardener. When Tang suffers from political discrimination, Old Fan, the gardener, treats him well. However, when Tang resumes his high position, he feels embarrassed by Old Fan’s presence in front of his honorary guests. One day, when Old Fan delivers him a pot of chrysanthemums, Tang, wanting him out of the sight of his guests, picks from his collection of carved tobacco pipes a very simple one for the thankful gardener. Not long afterwards, Tang is ousted again, and his honorary friends disappear. Months later, Old Fan’s son knocks at Tang’s door with a pot of chrysanthemums. Before Old Fan died, he had told his son to bury him with Tang’s carved tobacco pipe between his lips. The story ends with Tang’s feelings of remorse and guilt for mistreating his true friend and admirer. Feng Jicai’s gripping novella “The Letter” (Ah!, 啊, Shouhuo, 6, 1979), a winner of the 1977–1980 National Best Novellas, remains one of the best works in contemporary Chinese literature, with its poignant portrayal of people’s psychological trauma caused by the horror and cruelty of political campaigns. From flashbacks, the reader learns that, during the Hundred Flowers Campaign (1957), the protagonist Wu Zhongyi (吴仲义)

attended a book club where he, his elder brother, and several friends rehearsed their criticisms of the CCP. During the Anti-Rightist Campaign, Wu alone escaped the misfortune, only because he did not get a chance to speak at the book club. The key image (the “eye” of the narrative, in Feng Jicai’s term) is the letter from Wu’s exiled brother, warning him that a person at that book club in 1957 might expose him in the Cultural Revolution. The rhythm quickens from this point onward. In great anxiety, Wu cannot find his reply letter to his brother. In a whirlpool of psychological turmoil, he is at the mercy of his manipulative colleagues and superiors. Unable to bear the tension, he confesses, which leads, not only to his detention, but also to a breakup with his girlfriend, and his elder brother and sister-in-law. Upon his release, months later, he returns home. Feng Jican gives an absurd and cruel twist to the already broken protagonist. As Wu washes his face, he finds the letter glued to the bottom of the basin! The story ends with his exclamation “Ah!”, which freezes like a close-up shot in a film, hence its Chinese title. “The Tall Woman and Her Short Husband” (Gao nüren he tade ai zhangfu, 高女人和她的矮丈 夫, Shanghai wenxue, 2, 1982) is a superb story of the destruction of individuality in a paranoid society, told by a sympathetic observer–narrator. A striking image is conjured up when, walking in the rain, the short husband raises the umbrella for the tall wife. Throughout the narrative, there is no dialogue expressed by the tall woman and her short husband. In a society where people do not respect each other’s privacy, the couple’s seemingly incompatible appearance and their aloof, quiet manners become suspicious to the so-called revolutionary masses. During the Cultural Revolution, their suspicion soon turns into unfounded accusations. The couple are publicly humiliated by the neighbors, particularly the neighborhood watcher, who has an eye on the couple’s spacious apartment. The husband is imprisoned for years, and, not long after his release, the wife dies of illness. What actually happens remains unknown. The narrative ends with what has become a classic scene in Chinese contemporary fiction: When it rains and he takes an umbrella to go to work, out of force of habit perhaps he still holds it high. Then they have the strange sensation that there is a big empty space under that umbrella, a vacuum that nothing on earth can fill.5


In spring 1986, Feng Jicai launched an oralhistory project, interviewing 100 people from diverse backgrounds who lived through the Cultural Revolution. The main criterion was that the interviewee must be willing to tell the utmost secret. In 1991, he published a collection of 25 interviews under the title 100 People’s Ten Years (Yibai ge ren de shinian, 一百个人的十年). In the afterword, he revealed that there was pressure from the censors. The English translation, entitled Ten Years of Madness: An Oral History of the Cultural Revolution, contains 14 interviews. Reading these chilling personal accounts, one cannot but feel that Chinese writers need not make up any stories about the Cultural Revolution. The cruelty and absurdity of these tales can best testify to the chaotic era.

Cultural Reflection: Pigtails, bound feet, and the eight hexagrams Feng Jicai has a genuine interest in folklore, but it does not mean that he uses it uncritically. In his “Strange Tales in a Strange World Series” (guaishi qitan xilie, 怪世奇谈系列), he makes use of the images of the pigtail, foot binding, and the folk beliefs of Yinyang (阴阳 ) and hexagram. He combines elements of history and absurdity, symbolism and realism, and folklore and modernity, in his ambitious attempt to construct his fiction of cultural reflection (wenhua fansi xiaoshuo, 文化反思小说).6 “The Miraculous Pigtail” (Shenbian, 神鞭 , Xiaoshuojia, 3, 1984), a winner of the National Best Novellas, is set in Tianjin on the eve of the Boxers Uprising, around 1900. The protagonist, Second Simpleton (Shaer, 傻二), is a typical folk hero, keeping a low profile. He has learned a superb Kung-fu using his pigtail. On the outside, he is a bean-curd maker and seems to be contented with his life, but, wherever he encounters injustice on the street, he intervenes, embodying the spirit of a traditional knight errant. Feng Jicai concretizes the setting with details of life in Tianjin such as local customs, objects, and slang. The momentum of the narrative quickens after the protagonist’s secret has been exposed. The Boxers recruit him. However, during the Boxers Uprising, the invincibility of Second Simpleton’s magic pigtail collapses when a foreign soldier shoots him with a gun and burns his pigtail. A lapse of time is used to foster changes. When Second Simpleton reemerges years later, his magic pigtail has gone, and he has become a sharpshooter and bodyguard

of a government leader. Though some criticize Feng Jicai for bringing back this old image, Second Simpleton’s reply to his friend can serve as the intended theme: However good the things of our ancestors, when the time comes to discard them, then discarded they must be. I cut off the pigtail, but I kept the magic power. That’s to say, no matter what is done to us, it will be impossible to put us down; no matter what new toys they use, we will not be pissed on by others.7 In “The Three-inch Golden Lotus” (San cun jinlian, 三寸金莲, Shouhuo, 3, 1986), Feng Jicai uses the image of bound feet to critique the cruel and warped custom that disfigured the body and mind of Chinese women for a thousand years.8 The female protagonist Ge Xianglian (戈香莲, fragrant lotus) is forced to bind her feet at six by her grandmother. With her “three-inch golden lotus,” she marries high into the Tong (佟) family, which owns a large antique shop—a symbol of old values. The father-in-law, Tong Ren’an (佟忍安), a connoisseur of this warped tradition, holds a “three golden lotus” contest in his mansion. The sad irony is that, even though Ge Xiangliang is a victim of foot binding, in order to win in the contest, which will bring her prestige and, ultimately, power in the household, she undergoes another binding to “improve” the look of her feet. That the father-in-law, even on his deathbed, orders all the female grandchildren to bind their feet shows, symbolically, that the dying male still possesses power to control women’s fate. The mysterious disappearance of Ge Xianglian’s little daughter on the eve of the collective foot binding and the search for her sustain the narrative. Dramatic irony is achieved when, years later, the adult daughter returns as a leading activist against bound feet. Another surprise revealed by the maid is that Ge Xianglian was behind her daughter’s disappearance to avoid foot binding. This new revelation adds a positive dimension to the development of Ge Xianglian’s personality, and a sense of hope for Chinese women. In the novel Yinyang and Hexagram (Yinyang bagua, 阴阳八卦, 1988), Feng Jicai divides the text into “hui” (chapter) format, as in a classical vernacular novel, and experiments with excessive word repetitions, which is not as successful. Huang (黄), the eldest son of a rich family, is interested in befriending people with unusual abilities. The narrative is replete with seemingly magical activ-


ities. To cure his ailing Second Aunt and to find the family heirloom—a box of treasure hidden somewhere in the mansion—Huang consults a fortune-teller, a geomancer, two quack doctors, and a magician who claims to be able to see through objects. Second Aunt dies, and the existence of the treasure box becomes questionable. The revelation that the maid, the fortune-teller, and the geomancer are collaborators reiterates the anti-superstition theme. Feng Jicai is also a thoughtful essayist. His cultural essays based on his travels to foreign countries attracted many readers, particularly in the 1980s, when going abroad was rare. His first essay collection, London in Fog (Wu li kan Lundun, 雾里看伦敦, 1982) shows his insightful impressions of the West. In the 21st century, his essays on cultural preservation are important voices against senseless destruction of non-material culture in the name of modernization and globalization. Feng Jicai’s long-term interest in folk culture turned into action when, in 1994, he learned that the old-town part of Tianjin was to be demolished for redevelopment. He led photographers and other volunteers to take photographs of the old sites and compiled them into books. He particularly felt the urgency to preserve old culture when he learned that about 600 Chinese cities were undergoing various degrees of redevelopment, without any inventory of the cultural relics being done. After becoming chairman of the Association for Chinese Folk Artists, he took upon himself the mission to save non-material culture. In 2003, he raised the issue at the People’s Congress. He even sold his own paintings to raise funds for the endeavor. Immediately after the earthquake in Wenchuan (汶川), Sichuan Province, on May 12, 2008, a district of the Qiang (羌) minority, he took a team of volunteers there in an attempt to save the Qiang cultural relics. In recent years, Feng Jicai has reduced his output of fiction: his interest has shifted to what he considers most urgent. He is looked upon as an activist intellectual, and a cultural icon with a moral conscience.

Notes 1. See Wo shi Feng Jicai: Feng Jicai zibai (我是冯骥才: 冯骥才自白, I am Feng Jicai: In Feng Jicai’s Own Words). Beijing: Tuanjie chubanshe, 1996. 2. Ibid., p. 13. 3. Ibid., p. 93. 4. See Feng Jicai’s letter to Liu Xinwu, “Xiayibu taxiang hechu?” (下一步踏向何处? What is the Next Step from Here?), Renmin wenxue, 3, 1981, pp. 89–91.

5. Translated by Gladys Yang and published in Selected Stories by Feng Jicai. Beijing: Chinese Literature Press & Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press, 1999, pp. 28–31. 6. Feng Jicai, “Wo weishenme xie ‘Sancun Jinlian’ ” (我为 什么写“三寸金莲”, Why Did I Write Three-inch Golden Lotus?), Wenyi bao, September 19, 1987, p. 2. 7. Feng Jicai, The Miraculous Pigtail (trans. Gladys Yang), Panda Books, 1987, p. 244. 8. Feng Jicai, “Wo weishenme xie ‘Sancun Jinlian’ ”, Wenyi bao, September 19, 1987, p. 2.

Translations into English Chrysanthemums and Other Stories (trans. Susan Wolf Chen). San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1985. The Miraculous Pigtail (trans. John Moffett). Panda Books, 1987. “The Tall Woman and Her Short Husband” (trans. Gladys Yang), in Bian Ying (ed.), The Time Is Not Yet Ripe: Contemporary China’s Best Writers and Their Stories. Beijing: Foreign Languages, 1991, pp. 85–98; Also (trans. Gladys Yang) in Jianing Chen (ed.)., Themes of Contemporary Chinese Literature. Beijing: New World Press, 1993, pp. 303–312. “Hawfinches” (trans. Shi Junbao), Chinese Literature, Winter (1992): 159–160. “A Written Testimonial: About the Cultural Revolution” (trans. Philip Williams), in Helmut Martin and Jeffrey Kinkley (eds.), Modern Chinese Writers: Selfportrayals. Armonk, NY: London: M.E. Sharpe, 1992, pp. 14–19. The Three-inch Golden Lotus (trans. David Wakefield, Howard Goldblatt, ed.), Honolulu, HI: University of Hawai’i Press, 1994. “Portraits of Tianjin Folk” (trans. Li Guoqing), Chinese Literature, Spring (1995): 122–139. Let One Hundred Flowers Bloom (trans. Christopher Smith). London and New York: Viking, 1995. Selected Stories by Feng Jicai. Beijing: Chinese Literature Press & Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press, 1999. Ten Years of Madness: An Oral History of the Cultural Revolution. San Francisco, CA: China Books & Periodicals, 1996; also entitled Voices from the Whirlwind: An Oral History of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. New York: Pantheon Books; Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1991. “Men with Strange Abilities” (trans. Mingjie Wang), Chinese Literature, November–December (2000): 23–35. “Street Wizards” (trans. Zhang Xiaorong), in Street Wizards and Other New Folklore. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 2009, pp. 125–171. The Miraculous Pigtail and Other Selected Writings. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 2009.

G GAO XIAOSHENG (高晓声, 1928–1999) Writing Satire and Fantasy Gao Xiaosheng stands out among Chinese writers in his use of black humor and satire in the portrayal of peasants and a detached attitude toward his own exile as a Rightist. His bestknown peasant character, Chen Huansheng (陈奂 生), has been canonized in contemporary Chinese literature. Also notable are his allegorical stories, which challenge the conventional notion of realism. One of the earliest Chinese writers to be known outside his home country, his stories have appeared in languages such as English, German, Dutch, and Japanese. Gao Xiaosheng was born into a peasant family in Wujin County (武进县), Jiangsu Province. His father, a middle-school teacher, was killed by Japanese soldiers during World War II, leaving the family impoverished. With the aid of his father’s friends, Gao Xiaosheng was able to complete middle school. In 1948, he entered Shanghai Law Institute, majoring in economics. After 1949, he enrolled in the Southern Jiangsu Journalism School (苏南新闻专科学校) in Wuxi (无锡). A year later, he became editor of the literary and art section of the New China Daily (Xinhua ribao, 新华日报). Gao Xiaosheng was in the first group of young writers to emerge after 1949. In 1951, after publishing his first poetry collection and the story “Collecting Field Money” (Shou tiancai, 收田财), Gao Xiaosheng was sent to receive special training in writing. In 1953, to promote the Cooperative, he wrote the play script On a New Path (Zoushang xinlu, 走上新路, co-authored with Ye Zhicheng, 叶至诚 [1926–1992]), which won an

award at the Eastern China Drama Performance Contest. In 1954, to promote the new marriage law, he wrote the story “Broken Betrothal” (Jieyue, 解约, Wenyi yuebao, 2, 1954), which portrays a young woman asserting her right to choose the man she loves by breaking a marriage agreement. In early summer 1956, Gao Xiaosheng collaborated with Lu Wentu (陆文夫) and six other writers to establish the literary magazine Explorers (Tanqiu zhe, 探求者) in Nanjing. In preparation for the inaugural issue, they drafted a long statement of purpose, calling for, among other things, the representation of truthful reality and the abandonment of fake and formulaic writing, which was actually a critique of socialist realism, a literary tenet adopted from the Soviet Union. Gao Xiaosheng wrote the short story “Misfortune” (Buxing, 不幸, 1957) to illustrate these ideas.1 It depicts an unhappy actress living in the shadow of her dictatorial husband, who is also vice-director of the drama troupe. She is thus doubly victimized, by male chauvinism and the party apparatus. When the Anti-Rightist Campaign began, the inaugural issue of Explorer became a nationwide target of attack, including this story. In 1958, the eight writers in this group were sent to “thought reform through labor” (laodong gaizao, 劳动改造). Their Rightist label was not lifted until 1979. Gao Xiaosheng was sent back to his hometown to till the land under the surveillance of fellow villagers. At 28, he married Qian Suzhen (钱素贞), an admirable village woman who stood by him despite his setback. In his hometown, Gao Xiaosheng lived through the Great Leap Forward, the Great Famine, and the Cultural Revolution. His deep understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the peasantry later became a rich source


of his writing. In 1978, Gao Xiaosheng was allowed to resume writing. In April 1979, he was fully rehabilitated and returned to Nanjing. Gao Xiaosheng was prolific during the early 1980s, trying to make up for lost time. Between 1981 and 1985, he published a collection of short stories annually and a large number of essays. In 1988, he completed his autobiographical novel Blue Sky Above (Qingtian zaishang, 青天在上). After 1992, owing to declining health, he focused on writing short essays. He died in 1999 of lung disease.

Satire and the Peasants: Li Shunda and Chen Huansheng In the summer of 1979, Gao Xiaosheng’s “Li Shunda Builds a House” (Li Shunda zaowu, 李顺 大造屋, Yuhua, 7, 1979) made a name for him, winning a National Best Short Stories award. Written with black humor, it focuses on the Sisyphean fate of the Chinese peasantry under Maoist rule. Repetition dominates the story line. Li Shunda, a poor peasant, attempts to build a house, but repeatedly fails owing to extreme policies. Before 1949, he had sold himself three times to survive. After 1949, he is given land, but no housing. His dream is to build three lodgings: one for himself and his wife, one for his son, and one for his pigs and sheep. In the spirit of the legendary “stupid old man moving the mountain” (yugong yishan, 愚公移山)—which Mao ironically makes use in his teaching, but is now adopted satirically by the author—Li Shunda’s family begins a difficult battle to collect enough material for the construction. However, when the Great Leap Forward comes, the material is confiscated. By the early 1960s, Li Shunda manages to collect enough material, but the Cultural Revolution intervenes. After Mao’s death, he finally is able to purchase the building material. The story has the “bright tail” device at the end, giving hope to the Chinese Sisyphus. What brought Gao Xiaosheng greater fame is his satirical short story “Chen Huansheng’s Adventure in Town” (Chen Huansheng shangcheng, 陈奂生上城, Renmin wenxue, 2, 1980), which is a sequel to an earlier story, “Funnel Household” (“Loudou hu” zhu, “漏斗户 ”主 , Zhongshan, 5, 1979), about the same character. The symbolic term “funnel household” refers to a family always hungry, like a funnel that can never be filled.

From the Yan’an period, satire was supposed to be used to portray backward characters (for instance, some of Zhao Shuli’s [赵树理, 1906– 1970] stories). In the early 1960s, the attack on the notion of “middle characters” (zhongjian renwu, 中间人物, characters who are neither heroes nor villains, but are capable of being reformed) left little room for satire. Regarding the portrayals of peasant characters, Gao Xiaosheng says: True, people like [the protagonist] Chen Huansheng have shortcomings. They may not be smart; they are incapable of making plans, yet they are kind-hearted, honest and hardworking, and even willing to work while hungry. They not only deserve our sympathy but also our respect. How can we jeer at them? My story is based on a real person. His background, family, personality, fate and his attitudes toward work, towards his fellow folks and cadres, and the cadres’ attitudes towards him, resemble those of the protagonist Chen Huansheng. The story can be regarded a literary report.2 “Chen Huansheng’s Adventure in Town” is simple yet provocative. It strikes the reader with satirical humor and a sympathetic undertone. Set at the time when rural China was emerging out of the nightmarish Cultural Revolution, the narrative contains fresh elements of a new era. It is the time of change, as symbolized by Chen Huansheng’s need of a new cap (head). For the first time since 1949, the 48-year-old Chen Huansheng can earn extra money, outside farming, by selling fried twists in a railway station—a bitter sociopolitical critique. After selling the food, he feels ill. A delightful plot twist occurs when Secretary Wu (吴书记) of the district, who once lived in Chen’s village as an exile, notices him on his way to a meeting. Without consulting Chen Huansheng, Secretary Wu has the driver take him to a hotel and leaves him there. The technique of defamiliarization is used effectively to bring out a double critique: the discrepancy in living standards between the poor and the privileged, and the narrow peasant mentality of Chen Huansheng. Amazed at the price of the hotel room, Chen Huansheng is determined to get his money’s worth. He steps on the shiny floor without taking off his shoes, he sleeps with clothes on in clean sheets, and he stretches himself out and flops down on the sofa three times. The comical, yet


pitiful, behavior of Chen Huansheng remains a classic scene in post-Mao fiction. In an ironical final twist, the adventure of Chen Huansheng now gains high respect in the village. The villagers are very impressed by the good treatment he receives from Secretary Wu. The spirit of Ah Q comes to the fore when one associates Chen Huansheng’s initial humbleness with his later boastfulness. With the success of “Chen Huansheng’s Adventure in Town,” Gao Xiaosheng decided to continue the story series, each one revealing a special aspect of Chen Huansheng’s personality/mentality in the context of a changing society. In “Chen Huansheng Changes His Job” (陈奂生转 业, Chen Huansheng zhuanye),3 the protagonist is assigned to be a purchaser for the commune factory, solely because of his connection with Secretary Wu. Sure enough, ironically, he gets the job done by fixing Secretary Wu’s vegetable garden while the latter is away. In “Chen Huansheng Joins the Responsibility System” (Chen Huansheng baochan, 陈奂生包产), Gao Xiaosheng critiques how collective work in the people’s commune lowered the farming skill of individual peasants through Chen Huansheng’s words: [In the collective], when the brigade leader points to the east, I’ll go east; when he points west, I’ll go west. I have obeyed him for twenty-eight years. I just work as told. I don’t have a clear idea about the details of farming such as the characteristics of the seeds of each grain, the nurturing techniques, the qualities of different fertilizer, and the different usages of pesticides.4 Even hard-working Chen Huansheng’s farming skills have been eroded by the people’s commune, let alone the others’. In “Chen Huansheng Tactic” (Chen Huansheng zhanshu, 陈奂生战术, Zhongshan, 1, 1991), Chen Huansheng sticks to farming rather than taking a risk to do business with former team leader Wang Shengfa (王生发), who has quickly made his fortune from buying and selling—a plot detail anticipating rural officials using power as a means to get rich. In “Big Field Household” (Zhongtian dahu, 种田大户, Zhongshan, 3, 1991), Chen Huansheng prefers to hold on to the cash than to use it for business, for fear of losing it— a sign of his petty peasant mentality. The last

story, “Chen Huansheng Going Abroad” (Chen Huansheng chuguo, 陈奂生出国, Xiaoshuojie, 4, 1991), is obviously inspired by the author’s experience abroad. A sinologist of Chinese origin invites both writer Xin (辛, Gao Xiaosheng in disguise) and Chen Huansheng to the United States for a lecture tour. The technique of defamiliarization is used again to enhance the dramatic effect of cultural differences. The most dramatic episode occurs when Chen Huansheng digs up the lawn to grow vegetables when he is hired to house sit a professor’s residence. By now, Gao Xiaosheng has exhausted what he can do with Chen Huansheng.

Blue Sky Above: A semi-autographical novel Gao Xiaosheng’s only novel, Blue Sky Above (Qingtian zaishang, 1991), unhurriedly presents, in 20 chapters, the life of a condemned writer, Chen Wenqing (陈文清, Gao Xiaosheng’s disguise), who is sent back from the city to his home village for “thought reform through labor.” Gao Xiaosheng creates a kind-hearted, pretty, and intelligent female protagonist, Zhou Zhuping (周 珠平, modeled on the author’s wife), who becomes the wife of a Rightist. The text skillfully contrasts the couple’s harmonious personal life with the violent political campaigns, which increasingly cause them harm, as symbolized by the wife’s declining health and eventual death. The sensitive description of love and mutual understanding echoes that of Shen Fu (沈复, 1763–1825) and his wife Chen Yun (陈芸) in Six Chapters of Floating Life (Fushang liuji, 浮生六记). Gao Xiaosheng uses the village as a microcosm to examine the peasant mentality and as an indirect political critique. To the villagers, the ability to read and write is something precious, and to them, the protagonist’s so-called political mistake does not constitute a crime at all. They protect him by holding fake mass meetings to please the leadership. However,, the villagers’ blind worship of authority is lamentable. When told there will be abundant grain for food, they eat to their heart’s content (one even dies of overeating at the communal hall); when told to give away their pots and pans, they follow, believing the all-knowing leadership will guide them in the right direction (Chapter 11). Gao Xiaosheng gives a satirical description of the people’s commune and the reactions of the peasants:


From antiquity, saving the army is like saving fire, and forming a communal hall is like saving the stomach, naturally, it is more urgent than saving the army and fire. The brigade order is even more urgent, it dispatches a black flag, criticizes Yao Xiangjin [a conservative official], and orders that no one can use the stove, and everyone is guaranteed to have enough to eat. As there is not enough time to build the stove and buy the wok, they eat porridge for two days at the communal hall prepared by Chen Genfa and Chen Yaozhong. They eat vegetables boiled in water. No big deal, this is only the beginning. “New born things” take time to come to perfection. Even though a simple meal, everyone was happy, and said that they have never eaten food cooked in such a big wok. Delicious! “This is communism!”, a lad who failed grade nine screamed happily. (p. 161)

Thematic Expansion: Allegorical stories and others Concurrent with the publication of the satirical stories about the peasant Chen Huansheng, Gao Xiaosheng digressed to write a number of stories with diverse themes. Some adhere to realism to bring out more observations of peasant life against the changing society. For instance, “The River Flows East” (Shui dongliu, 水东流, 1981)5 deals with a conservative peasant father Liu Xingda (刘 兴 大 ), who originally objected to spending any money at all but finally surrenders to his daughter’s desire to buy a radio. What is more, he has to let her choose an innovative technician as her future husband, instead of insisting on his choice—a reliable young man who follows the old ways. The story can be read as a sequel to Gao Xiaosheng’s 1956 story “Broken Betrothal” (Jieyue, 解约), which glorifies self-determination in marriage, only in a different social context. More impressive are Gao Xiaosheng’s stories with thematic ambiguity and allegorical connotations. The short story “Brief Case” (Qianbao, 钱 包) is an allegory about gain and loss, set in 1938, in a village by the Yangtze River where people are struggling to survive. Tension is maintained throughout the text. A rumor spreads that a briefcase with 300 silver dollars fell in the river the previous year, when the owner, the head of police,

was fleeing instead of defending against the invading Japanese. Now, the villagers are searching for the fortune. Luck (or bad luck) falls on Huang Shunquan (黄顺全), the 40-year old honest protagonist, when he reaches the bottom of a rock. Moral dilemma sets in from this point onward. Huang falls into psychological turmoil, debating if he should keep the briefcase himself. Unable to turn his sight away from the location of the briefcase, he unconsciously leaks the secret. Huang turns the money in. The tale could end here, to restore his fame and psychological balance. But, he is severely beaten up and, after that, he loses his mind and becomes a beggar. He would go to the bridge near which he found the briefcase and throw the coins into the river, one by one. Five months later, he dies. His luck has turned into a curse. Through the satirical portrayals of the peasant Chen Huansheng, Gao Xiaosheng has brought back to contemporary Chinese literature the literary genre of satire. His concise language and layered narration stand out distinctly when compared with the rhetoric of many writers whose language still bears the influence of Maoist rhetoric. Notably, Gao Xiaosheng’s artistic exploration in his allegorical and fantastical tales deserves special attention. These tales represent his greater ambition to go beyond Chen Huansheng. It is a pity that the Chen Huansheng stories are so successful that they have overshadowed the artistic achievement of his other stories.

Notes 1. In Gao Xiaosheng. Beijing: Remin wenxue chubanshe, 1994, pp. 12–19. 2. Preface to Chen Huansheng. Guangzhou: Huacheng chubanshe, 1983, pp. 1–2. 3. Ibid., pp. 54–89. 4. Ibid., p. 94. 5. In Gao Xiaosheng, pp. 113–130.

Translations into English “The Briefcase,” Chinese Literature, December (1980): 13–25. “Chen Huansheng’s Adventure in Town” (trans. Yu Fanqin), Chinese Literature, December (1980): 3–12; also in Best Chinese stories, 1949–1989. Beijing: Chinese Literature Press, 1989, pp. 168–175. “The River Flows East,” Chinese Literature, October (1981): 49–68. The Broken Betrothal. Beijing: Panda Books, 1981; Chinese Literature Press, 1987.


“Chen Huansheng Transferred,” Chinese Literature, April (1982): 5–37. “Li Shunda Builds a House” (trans. Ellen Klempner), in Lee Yee (ed.), The New Realism: Writings from China after the Cultural Revolution. New York: Hippocrene Books, 1983, pp. 31–55; “Li Shunda Builds a House” (trans. Madelyn Ross), in Mason Y.H. Wang (ed.), Perspective in Contemporary Chinese Literature. University Center, MI: Green River Press, 1983, pp. 193–228; also in Kwok-kan Tam, Terry Siu-Han Yip, and Wimal Dissanayake (eds.), A Place of One’s Own: Stories of Self in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore. Hong Kong and New York: Oxford University Press, 1999, pp. 3–27. “Underwater Obstruction” (tr. Rosie A. Roberts), Chinese Literature, Autumn (1984): 52–67. “A Gift of Land” (trans. Howard Goldblatt), in Helen F. Siu (comp. and ed.), Furrows, Peasants, Intellectuals, and the State: Stories and Histories from Modern China. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1990, pp. 163–180. “Thrusts of Violent Creativity: ‘I Returned with My Hands Empty and Shame on My Face’ ” (trans. Fung Mei-Cheong), in Helmut Martin and Jeffrey Kinkley (eds.), Modern Chinese Writers: Self-Portrayals. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1992, pp. 84–90.

GAO XINGJIAN (高行健, B. 1940) Nobel Prize Winner, Novelist and Playwright Gao Xingjian is the first Chinese writer to have been awarded, in the year 2000, the Nobel Prize in Literature since its inception in 1901. However, owing to the fact that he is a naturalized French citizen, and that he openly denounced the June 4 Massacre in 1989, Gao’s success was not officially recognized by the Chinese government. The reactions of Chinese writers, however, were mixed. Some applauded, saying that any Chinese writer using the Chinese language as a writing medium and awarded the Nobel Prize would bring international recognition to the nation and to Chinese literature, regardless of his or her citizenship. Some held the opinion that Gao was not among the best Chinese writers. To younger readers, Gao was not a familiar name, because he had left China at the end of 1987. Regardless of these mixed reactions, Gao’s achievements were unique and outstanding among contemporary Chinese writers. First, he is fully bilingual and publishes in both Chinese and

French. This is extremely rare in China, because, with a few exceptions, most Chinese writers have not had any opportunity to learn a foreign language, largely owing to the country’s decades of isolation. This is also rare compared with internationally known writers in the West, because not many could publish in a language other than their mother tongue. Second, Gao is the first Chinese playwright devoted to the blending of avant-garde theatre with traditional Chinese theatrical elements and he achieved fame nationally and internationally. Moreover, his ideas on the philosophy and art of modernist writing represent an independent voice. Third, Gao is a painter in his own right. His paintings are exhibited in, and collected by, world-class galleries and museums. Born in Ganzhou (赣州), Jiangxi Province, on January 4, 1940 (though his ancestral home was Taizhou county, Jiangsu Province), Gao can be considered a southerner, though he spent many of his adult years in Beijing. His grandfather and father were senior staff in the Bank of China, and his mother was a graduate of a missionary school and a member of the Salvation Drama Troupe of the Chinese Young Christian Association. Two inheritances from his parents were to sow the seeds for future developments: his father’s books provided the opportunity to read Chinese and Western literature, and his mother insisted on him keeping a diary and initiated him into theatre and acting. After his family moved to Nanjing in 1951, he attended the Nanjing Number 10 Middle School, where he developed a serious interest in painting and took lessons from a good teacher. Gao graduated in 1962, majoring in French at the Beijing Institute of Foreign Languages. Whereas most Chinese writers could only access works of Western literature in translation, he was able to absorb them directly. After graduation, he was assigned to work as a translator for the French-language version of the magazine China Reconstructs at the Foreign Languages Press. During the Cultural Revolution, after doing one year of labor in a May Seventh Cadre School, he obtained a transfer to a county in Anhui Province, where he taught in a local middle school. In 1975, he was called back to work in the Foreign Language Bureau, which allowed him to read French writers such as Prevért, Sartre, Camus, Gide, Beckett, Genet, Ionesco, Butor, RobbeGrillet, Ponge, Michaux, and Proust. In 1977, he was transferred to the Chinese Writers’ Association, with the duty of ordering foreign journals.


In 1979, when China began to have contact with the West, he was the interpreter for veteran writer Ba Jin (巴金, 1904–2005) on a visit to France. In 1981, Gao went to Paris again, with a group of Chinese writers. As his experimental theatre became known in the West, in 1985 and 1987, he was invited on a cultural exchange to Europe, and it was during the latter trip that he decided to stay in France.

An Experimental Writer and Critic Gao began writing in 1958, when he was in the second year of university. However, the unpublished short stories, novels, diaries, film scripts, and plays he wrote, amounting to about 1 million words, were burnt to avoid persecution in 1966, the first year of the Cultural Revolution. Like many post-Mao writers, Gao began publishing in 1979, the most vibrant phase of the thaw, marked by the outpouring of works exposing the wounds inflicted by the rule of the Gang of Four (as camouflage for Mao) during the Cultural Revolution. In November that year, Gao published his first novella, “Stars in a Cold Night” (Hanye de xingchen, 寒夜的星辰, Huacheng, 3, 1979), which is a reconstruction of the life of a loyal party cadre, derived from diary entries from the Cultural Revolution. Suffering from the loss of his wife to suicide and hard labor in the countryside, he became ill, but was denied proper medical treatment. He dies only a few months before the fall of the Gang of Four. This novella has the typical characteristics of Scar Literature, speaking up for the wrongly and unjustly persecuted party cadres and exposing the evil practices of the Cultural Revolution. What separates this story from much Scar Literature is that Gao’s first-person narrator, an intellectual, more than once daringly questions the meaning of “Liberation” and calls for true liberation from political cliché, as well as from fake, empty words and lies (p. 213). In 1981, Gao published his second novella, “A Pigeon Named Red Beak” (You zhi gezi jiao hong chun’er, 有只鸽子叫红唇儿, Shouhuo, 1, 1981), which marks the beginning of his conscious experimentation with form. “This is a story not told in a conventional manner, though what is told still concerns human fate” (p. 205)—thus he begins the novella. The six characters, three male and three female, all in the prime of youth in 1957, take turns to tell their stories—love, friendship, study, family, labor reform, despair, death—either from

the first-person perspective or in dialogue with one or two of the others. The omniscient narrator plays a flexible role: he explains the activities of the characters, he talks with a character by addressing him/her as “you” (a technique that Gao developed further in his later novels), and converses with more than one character. The multilayered interactions between characters and the narrator create a symphonic effect, with the narrator as conductor directing the musical movements—the voices of the characters—in an unforced but inevitable direction. The youngest and most talented character’s last dialogue, between himself and his heart, near his death, is a notable episode in postMao fiction. It signifies Gao’s predilection for psychological depiction. The senseless waste of talents because of political interference strikes the reader strongly. In 1979, Gao began publishing his ideas on writing in a series of essays in Random Notes (Suibi, 随笔), a Guangzhou journal, and subsequently collected them in a small book called Preliminary Explorations in the Techniques of Modern Fiction (Xiandai xiaoshuo jiqiao chutan, 现代小说技巧初探, 1981). The book is clearly a refutation of the tenets on literature and art set forth by Mao’s Yan’an Talks (1942). It was the first systematic statement made by a Chinese writer against dictatorship in literary and artistic creation. This small book (129 pages) would become the blueprint for Gao’s writing. It contains 17 chapters, dealing with issues such as points of view, stream of consciousness, absurdity and illogicality, plot and structure, sense of distance, time, and space. Liberal writers such as Liu Xinwu (刘 心武, b. 1940) and Wang Meng (王蒙, b. 1934) responded to Gao’s ideas with enthusiastic essays, but displeased orthodox critics used the Literary Gazette (Wenyi bao, 文艺报) to launch an attack on Gao for promoting modernism. However, Gao was supported by veteran writers Ba Jin (巴金) and Xia Yan (夏衍, 1900–1995) and other journals (pp. 160–161).1 While in France in February 1989, Gao published a collection of 17 short stories in Taiwan, under the title Buying a Fishing Rod for My Grandfather (Gei wo laoye mai yugan, 给我老 爷买鱼竿).2 The title story best exemplifies his ideas on writing. The first-person narrator is sometimes referred to as “you,” creating another detached perspective for viewing the self and his situation. The images of his grandfather, grandmother, and mother are associated with fond


memories of his ancestral house, which had traditional paintings and carvings. The ecological destruction and disappearance of his old home is painful—the small lake dried up with rocks, the river filled with cement. The fishing rod, which is associated with grandfather, leisure, and nature, has been left in the protagonist’s toilet. Numbed by the daily routine signified by the fixed television schedule, the protagonist, or, for that matter, urban people in general, is alienated from society, from people, and from himself. Gao creates a narrative in which the past and the present, the leisured country life and alienated urban life, are intermingled in the flow of language. Particularly, the depictions of nature and the country home are interpolated with the background narration of a soccer game from Mexico. Seemingly incongruous, it is a truthful reflection of the split mental state of the protagonist.

Soul Mountain: The novel that won the Nobel Prize The novel Soul Mountain (Lingshan, 灵山, 1990) is a fictional account of the physical and psychological journey of a writer, who is Gao in disguise. In reality, learning from a doctor of a previous wrong diagnosis of lung cancer, Gao felt relieved and, in order to escape from potential persecution because of his play Bus Stop, he made a five-month trip to eight provinces, including seven ecological preservation districts along the Yangtze and in southern China, a total of 15,000 km. The journey, or the pilgrimage, is paralleled by the recurrent image of escape or, in Gao’s term, “fleeing” from politics, mundane matters, and the self. His journey is not meticulously planned, but resembles the free wandering of a Daoist or a Buddhist monk. The narrative consists of 81 chapters. As 9 is considered the highest number, and 81 is the square of 9, it has a Buddhist resonance in the context of his pilgrimage. Gao sets out to find the Soul Mountain, but it actually doesn’t exist. The searching journey itself thus becomes its meaning. The paradox also bears a Daoist resonance. It reminds one that Dao means “The Way,” the significance of which is that the goal and the way to it are one and the same. Coincidentally, in the final chapter of Journey to the West, Tripitaka and his disciples are awarded on a mountain named Soul Mountain. The influence of the Chinese classic on Gao seems evident. The dual progression of the physical and

psychological journey is made more complex with the constant shifting of points of view: I, you, and He, a distinctive feature of Gao’s fiction and plays. The shifting points of view turn the novel into a fascinating prism that generates many perspectives for viewing and interpreting angles of the protagonist and his milieu. When the implied author employs “I,” the protagonist speaks from his subjectivity in the first person; when he employs “you,” the protagonist becomes a dialogical object, allowing close observation and examination of the “I”; when he employs “he,” the protagonist is pushed to a distance for scrutiny. Stepping outside oneself in order to face oneself directly, as a conversational partner and as a distanced historical entity, creates a multi-angled scrutiny of the subject. What emerges is thus a different kind of monologue, which relentlessly examines the self from various distances. The journey is the search, not only for the Soul Mountain, but also for China’s non-mainstream cultural legacies—myths, folk beliefs, ethnic heritage–which have been suppressed, marginalized, and forgotten in the name of the revolution. Each of these traditions naturally comes back to life and reveals itself, as the experiencing self moves on with his journey. Gao’s exploration of the marginalized culture can rightly be regarded, not only as root searching, but also as a subversion of orthodox culture, be it Confucianism from antiquity or communist ideological dominance since 1949.

One Man’s Bible: An intellectual in exile Gao’s second novel, One Man’s Bible (Yige ren de shengjing, 一 个 人 的 圣 经 , 1999), was written completely in exile. Recognizing that exile is a normal condition,3 Gao does not emphasize the daily details of his life in the West. His protagonist moves freely from country to country, as necessitated by his literary and artistic career. Being a diasporic Chinese, he is no longer confined to any ideology or community. The sense of escape, or fleeing, permeates the text. In the past, he fled from fear, public humiliation, labor reform, and ideological interference. In the present, in the West, he fled from materialistic trappings, people, and the past. Fleeing is his self-salvation; fleeing is his bible. The novel is told from two points of view: “you” and “he”; the former is used for the present self (in Hong Kong, Australia, and Europe), and


the latter for the past self (from childhood to the Cultural Revolution). The juxtapositions of the present and the past form the structure. The implied narrator “I” never appears. When the implied narrator “I” writes about “you” and “he,” he is viewing the self of the present who views his past, thereby creating the successive images of recollection and introspection. Gao’s female characters in these two novels deserve attention. In Soul Mountain and One Man’s Bible, the female characters are used variously to serve the protagonist, to satisfy his sexual needs and desires, to be his conversational companion (or extended self), or to bring out his personality and memory. In One Man’s Bible, the body of the German Jewish woman is the key for “you” to find “his” past. She is the window to his traumatic memory. Despite Gao’s sensitive feelings toward his female characters, the several other women of “he” of the past lack individuality.

Plays: Blending traditional culture with foreign drama Gao was and is better known as a playwright than a fiction writer. His career as a playwright began after he was transferred, in June 1981, from the Chinese Writers’ Association to the People’s Art Theatre (Renmin yishu juyuan, 人民艺术剧院), the most prestigious theatre in China. He completed his first play, Bus Stop (Chezhan, 车站), in July 1981, but, because of the threatening political tension (because of Bai Hua’s [白 桦 ] play “Unrequited Love” [Kulian, 苦恋] and Ye Wenfu’s [叶文福] poem “General, you cannot do that” [Jiangjun, ni buneng zheyang zuo, 将军,你不能这 样做]), the play was put aside. His second experimental play, Absolute Signal (Juedui xinhao, 绝对 信号), first staged in a small theatre in spring 1982, was applauded by the audience and by dramatists. Soon, it was performed to a broader audience (pp. 158–160).4 Its juxtaposition of the young characters’ past and present in the confined space of a train compartment, mixed with light, music, and tense dialogue, was a breakthrough change from conventional acting, dominated by socialist, Ibsenian, and Stanislasvskian realism. In July 1983, the play Bus Stop was premiered and it provoked a heated response. However, it was described by dogmatic officials as “more Hairui than Hairui” (the play Hairui Dismissed from Office [Hairui ba guan, 海 瑞 罢 官 ] was condemned as critical of Mao’s People’s

Commune). The play was inspired by Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. Eight people, from various backgrounds, are eagerly waiting for the bus to town, but it never comes. Only false signals, represented by the coming and going of sounds of the bus engine, are heard. Up to this point, the play can be seen as realistic, as revealed in the conversations among the actors. Its absurd nature strikes home when the passage of time is indicated by a sudden extinguishing of the lights, after which the actors’ hair has turned white. What makes it more absurd is that, at the end, they discover that the bus stop is no longer in use. Symbolic and yet realistic, Bus Stop contains an element of comedy and, at the same time, theatre of the absurd. The promised Utopia is but an illusion and it will not come. The play Bus Stop carries a positive note not found in Waiting for Godot. Unlike Gogo and Didi, all the characters in Bus Stop wait with a purpose, and know what to do in town—a symbol of modern life. The silent intellectual’s early awakening to the illusion signifies a ray of hope. Gao began to incorporate traditional theatrical elements and folk culture after his return from the long trip to southwestern China. Wild Man, written in 1984 after this trip, was meant to mark the conclusion of the first phase of his experiment, and he wanted to stage it in the manner of what he called “perfect theatre” (wanquan xiju, 完全戏 剧). In early May 1985, Wild Man was performed in the Capital Theatre (Shoudu juyuan, 首都剧院) in Beijing and attracted a great deal of attention. The theme essentially concerns the issues of ecological protection and rediscovery of cultural heritage in the context of modernization. Gao’s use of multivocality deconstructs the linear presentation of the conventional realist theatre. The skillful blending of Western avant-garde forms with traditional Chinese theatrical elements, such as the use of masks, dance, pantomime, chanting, folk songs, and a local wedding scene, were elements making up Gao’s “total theatre.” Gao’s play The Other Shore (Bi an, 彼岸) was published in late 1986. When he was rehearsing the play, the order came to ban the performance. From then on, his plays were not performed in Mainland China. The Other Shore was first performed in Taiwan in 1990. The play was meant to train actors, and, in a sense, to train the audience, to adapt to a new theatre. Its spatial and temporal setting is unspecified. Thematically, it is concerned with the relations between the self and the collective, and the self and the other. The play


begins with the real-life actors playing a game using a rope, which can connect individuals in various ways. What emerges is that, as the actors enter their character roles, the game becomes a play. The senseless explosion of malicious language from the crowd and violence (reminiscent of struggle meetings in the Cultural Revolution) kill the woman character—an innocent person—before she can defend herself. The oppression of the self by a crowd intensifies to a point that the self has lost his/her sense of right and wrong. The ugly nature of the mad crowd is revealed when—after her death—no one admits his or her guilt, and each person begins accusing others of the crime. Toward the end of the play, the characters return to the role of real-life actors. The audience is aware that they have mentally traveled to a realm of unreality and back. In late 1987, Gao was invited by the Morat Institut für Kunst und Kunstwissenschaft to visit Germany. There, he applied for residence in France and has lived in Paris ever since. The third phase of Gao’s writing career began when he was in exile. Escape (Taowang, 逃亡) was completed in October 1989 after the June 4 Massacre. It was performed in Sweden in 1990. Though the reader can easily identify the geographical background, Gao elevates the theme of fleeing into a universal dimension by not specifying the locale. Hence, when the play was performed in Germany, the background was made into one reminiscent of the Nazis. The play features only three characters, a young female, a young man, and, later, a middleaged intellectual, who are taking refuge in a storehouse, fleeing from a police search. As the conversation develops between them, the complex emotions extend beyond their immediate safety concerns. What emerges is that they are fleeing, not only from the police, but also from themselves. Gao no doubt draws inspiration from traditional Chinese culture and religious elements for his plays. The Nether World (Ming cheng, 冥城), written in 1987 and finalized and performed in 1991, is improvised from the Peking opera Smash the Coffin (Da pi guan, 大劈棺). The philosopher Zhuangzi (庄子) returns home after a long journey and suddenly comes up with an idea to test his wife’s fidelity. The shaman and funeral workers carry a coffin home to his wife, saying Zhuangzi is dead. Zhuangzi disguises himself as the Prince of Chu, a friend of his, and starts making seductive advances to his wife. He is alarmed and hurt when she falls into his trap. Instead of revealing

himself, he goes further and pretends he has a heart disease that needs the dead husband’s brain for a cure. At this point, the audience’s emotions and moral sense are heightened. Their sympathy now shifts to the wife, as Zhuangzi’s joke, or distrust, goes too far. As she opens the coffin, he reveals his identity. She kills herself in shame and horror. The joke has turned into a tragedy that provokes questions of love and betrayal, trust and mistrust, gender and morality. The songs sung by the male and female singers at crucial moments contain comments and admonitions on the characters’ behavior. The black and white ghosts, as well as the evil female spirits, appear in a carnivalesque manner. The wife, now a ghost in the nether world, wants her justice, which the judge of the nether world cannot give her. The case is then brought to the king of the nether world, who also rejects her. Toward the end, the woman, unable to find justice, pulls out and examines her intestines in despair. Zhuangzi, sitting with legs crossed, concludes the play with a philosophical remark: “Living is like death; death is like living; no one really knows life and death.” The audience is left with lingering questions about the real and unreal aspects of love, betrayal, and death. The play is a superb blending of traditional Chinese theatre with modern occidental absurdity. Written in February 1989 and finalized in January 1993, the play The Classic of Mountains and Seas (Shan hai jing zhuan, 山海经传) is an ambitious work featuring about 70 figures from Chinese mythology. Again, it is part of the results of Gao’s long trip to southwestern China. The play, derived from the classical text of the same title, contains cultural elements that do not belong to the Confucian mainstream. Drastically different from Gao’s other plays, this play is presented in semi-classical language. What makes this play lively is that the heavenly gods are depicted as clowns, and the heavenly palaces are transformed into carnival grounds. As suggested by Gao in his instructions for acting, the actors are supposed to have unusually colorful makeup and costumes and engage in many activities taken from traditional theatre, such as painted faces and masks, acrobatics, playing with lanterns, and puppet shows. This shows Gao’s idea that entertaining elements are important elements of drama. Gao’s play Dialogue and Rebuttal (Duihua yu fanjie, 对话与反诘, 1992) makes use of religious elements by having a monk slowly walking around the edge of the stage and several times trying to


balance an egg on a stick, echoing the increasingly senseless conversation and conflicts of a modern man and woman after their one-night romance. As the tension between them gradually builds up, until communication becomes impossible, blinded by the dark side of human nature, they lose their senses and end up killing each other with a knife. The contrasting quarrelsome, incommunicative couple and the quiet, self-composed monk are presented to the audience simultaneously, forcing the latter to think of the significance of their actions every step of the way. The play that clearly shows Gao’s interest in Zen is August Snow (Bayue xue, 八月雪, 1997), which deals with the enlightening story of Zen master Huineng (慧能) of the Song Dynasty. It is written in semi-classical language to bring out the solemn atmosphere among the transcendent Zen monks. Huineng, the protagonist, is presented as a humble but confident monk who is initially looked down upon by other monks, but, through his superb intuition, he gains himself the status of Zen master. His pilgrimage is not a journey of many tests, but a natural revelation of a born talent. Two of the best-known episodes are used to uncover his talent: one, in which Huineng says that the mirror naturally has no dust and there is no need to wipe it, and the other, in which Huineng says that the flag does not move in the wind, it is the person who perceives the flag moves. Gao has brought new life to Chinese theatre and to world theatre by consciously and skillfully blending elements of Western and traditional Chinese theatre. What kind of theatre did Gao try to promote in China? Why did he engage in experimental theatre? In an article published in Hong Kong on July 2, 1987, he sums up three main points: First, drama is not purely an art of speaking; it is a performance art and it blends songs, dance, pantomime, puppets, martial arts, masks, magic, and acrobatics. Second, though drama takes place on a stage, one should recognize its suppositionality and not conceal the fact of acting. Third, once one has recognized the narrative nature of drama and is not limited by actual time and space, one could, as one pleases, establish various kinds of temporal and spatial relation. This way, the performance can be as free as speaking.5 Gao has rejuvenated contemporary Chinese literature with his innovative use of the Chinese language by consciously fleeing from politically

corrupted language and heavily Westernized sentence structures. In Soul Mountain and One Man’s Bible, one notices immediately that he consciously uses flexible, natural sentences that are characteristic of the Chinese language. Characteristically without verb inflections, the Chinese language constitutes a “stream of language,” which defies time. As he noted: Thinking and feeling, the conscious and the subconscious, narrative and dialogue, as well as soliloquy, and even the alienation of selfconsciousness, can all be subjected to examination in the method of Zen Buddhist contemplation. Instead of adopting the method of psychological and semantic analysis that can be found in Western fiction, I bring them together in the linear stream of language. (p. 11)6

Cold Literature Gao’s ideas of “cold literature” and “without ism” or “none ism” (meiyou zhuyi, 没有主义) are interrelated. Both ideas were reactions against what Gao had experienced as a writer under CCP rule. Gao says that “cold literature” should return to the authentic nature of literature. It does not have any predetermined obligation to society, government, and morality. It objects to utilitarianism. It abhors politics, but it does not mean that one cannot speak up against social injustice. To write “cold literature,” writers should reside on the margins of society in order to observe and introspect. In his precept-like thoughts on “without ism,” Gao proposes that writers should reject any kind of dogma or ism. “Without ism” opposes any type of politics that uses force against the individual in the name of abstract collectives such as the people, the race, or the nation; it opposes totalitarianism, whatever the brand: fascism, communism, nationalism, racism, or religious fundamentalism. To Gao, “without ism” is a great liberation and spiritual freedom. When one is not restricted by any isms, one can be like the Heavenly Horse traversing the heavens, coming and going freely. It brings one closer to truth, because, Gao says, it is better to search directly than to follow the winding paths established by others. For the individual to be able to say no to force, custom, superstition, reality, the thinking of other persons, and commodity is probably the final


meaning of being a person. The idea of cold literature may sound negative to some people; it is actually the choice of an exiled writer who experienced decades of oppressive rule.

Notes 1. “Geri huanghua” (隔日黄花, Things Past), in Meiyou zhuyi (没有主义, No isms). Hong Kong: Tiandi tushu chuban youxian gongsi, 2000, pp. 158–166. The information is from pp. 160–161. 2. Gao Xingjian, Gei wo laoye mai yugan (给我老爷买 鱼竿, Buying a Fishing Rod for My Grandfather). Taipei: Lianhe wenxue chubanshe, 1989, pp. 241–259. 3. In an interview, Gao Xingjian said that: I think it is time we overcame the idea that we’re in an exceptional environment that leaves us unable to create, and recognized that for a writer being in exile is something completely normal. There’s nothing terrifying about it. (“Conversation with Gao Xingjian,” p. 742) Gregory Lee & Noel Dutrait, "Conversation with Gao Xingjian: The First 'Chinese' winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature", China Quarterly, Sept, 2000, pp. 738–748. 4. “Geri huanghua,” in Meiyo zhuyi (Without isms), pp. 158–166. 5. “Dui yizhong xiandai xiju de zhuiqiu” (对一种现代戏 剧的追求, A Pursuit of a Modern Drama), Dagong Daily (大公报), July 2, 1987, p. 5. 6. Kwok-Kan Tam, “Introduction: Gai Xingjian, the Novel Prize and the Politics of Recognition,” in Kwok-kan Tam (ed.), Soul of Chaos: Critical Perspectives on Gao Xingjian. Hong Kong: The Chinese University of Hong Kong, 2001, pp. 1–20.

Translations into English “The Bus-stop” (partial, trans. Geremie Barmé). Renditions, 19/20 (1983): 373–386. “Bus Stop: A Lyrical Comedy on Life in One Act” (trans. Kimberley Besio), in Haiping Yan, (ed.), Theater and Society: An Anthology of Contemporary Chinese Drama. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1998, pp. 3–59. The Bus Stop, in Shiao-Ling Yu (ed.), Chinese Drama after the Cultural Revolution, 1979–1989. Lewiston, ME: Edwin Mellen Press, 1996, pp. 233–290; also in Xiaomei Chen (ed.), The Columbia Anthology of Modern Chinese Drama. New York: Columbia University Press, 2010, pp. 769–804. “Wild Man: A Contemporary Chinese Spoken Drama” (trans. Bruno Roubicek), Asian Theatre Journal (Honolulu) 7, 2 (Fall 1990): 184–249. “Fugitives: A Modern Tragedy in Two Acts” (Gregory Lee trans. & ed.), Chinese Writing and Exile. Chicago, IL: Center for East Asian Studies, University of Chicago, 1993, pp. 89–137.

“The Other Side: A Contemporary Drama without Acts” (trans. Jo Riley), in Martha Cheung and Jane C.C. Lai (eds.), An Oxford Anthology of Contemporary Chinese Drama. Hong Kong and New York: Oxford University Press, 1997, pp. 149–183. “Bus Stop: A Lyrical Comedy on Life in One Act” (trans. Kimberly Besio), in Haiping Yan (ed.), Theater & Society: An Anthology of Contemporary Chinese Drama. Armonk, NY and London: M.E. Sharpe, 1998, pp. 3–59; also in Renditions, 19–20, April–August (1983): 379–386. The Other Shore (trans. Gilbert C. F. Fong). Hong Kong: Chinese University Press, 1999. Includes The Other Shore, Nocturnal Wanderer, Dialogue and Rebuttal, Weekend Quartet and Between Life and Death. Soul Mountain (trans. Mabel Lee). New York: HarperCollins, 2000. One Man’s Bible (trans. Mabel Lee). New York: HarperCollins, 2002. Snow in August: Play by Gao Xingjian (trans. Gilbert C.F. Fong). Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press, 2003. Buying a Fishing Rod for My Grandfather: Stories (trans. Mabel Lee). New York: HarperCollin, 2004. Includes “The Temple,” “In the Park,” “Cramp,” and “The Accident.” Cold Literature: Selected Works by Gao Xingjian (trans. Gilbert C. Fong and Mabel Lee). Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press, 2005. “Snow in August,” (trans. Alexander C.Y. Wang), Asian Theatre Journal, 23, 1 (Spring 2006): 214–215. Gao Xingjian: Aesthetics and Creation (trans. Mabel Lee). Amherst, NY: Cambria, 2012. City of the Dead and Ballade Noctume (trans. Gilbert C. Fong and Mabel Lee). Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press, 2014.

GE FEI (格非, B. 1964) A Member of the Literati with AvantGarde Characteristics Unlike the writers of the Rightist or Zhiqing generation, Ge Fei, pseudonym of Liu Yong (刘勇), was too young to be involved in the Cultural Revolution and did not have to go through a period of adjustment when writing in the postMao period. Furthermore, his university education, from 1981 to 1985, coincided with the revival of previously condemned or banned works of literature, Chinese and foreign, and an influx


of newly translated works and ideas from abroad. Ge Fei is representative of avant-garde writers who emerged in the mid-1980s. With the publication of his subversive novella “Lost Boat” (Mizhou, 迷 舟, Shouhuo, 6, 1987), he immediately became one of the pioneering writers of the Chinese avantgarde. Ge Fei’s path to success was dramatic. He was born in Dantu (丹徒), Jiangsu Province, an ancient town by the Yangtze River. It was a backward place. Ge Fei did not see a train or a television until his teens. He attended poorly funded local elementary and middle schools. Even though his marks were the highest in the district, he did not pass the university examination. Only two prospects were open to him: to be a peasant or to become a carpentry apprentice. The night before he left home to learn carpentry, a stranger from miles away knocked at his door, and that changed his fate. Angry at the fact that no one from the district entered university, an old schoolmaster came to seek out Ge Fei and recommend him to a better middle school in the city of Zhenjiang (镇江), where he could study and retake the examination the following year. In Zhenjiang, he encountered another obstacle—his marks were not high enough to qualify for the program. By mere luck, two individuals at the education center allowed him to stay in the program. With this opportunity, he studied diligently. In 1981, he entered East China Normal University in Shanghai, majoring in Chinese literature. Reflecting on his path, Ge Fei came to believe in the unpredictability and fortuity of life.1 This belief would affect his conception of fiction. In 1985, after graduation, Ge Fei was assigned to teach at the same university. Despite the fact he was already an established writer, in the late 1990s, he decided to pursue a doctoral degree. In 2000, he completed his doctoral degree with a thesis on Fei Ming (废名, pseudonym of Feng Wenbing, 冯文炳, 1901–1967), a May Fourth writer famous for modernist techniques. In the same year, he obtained a post at Qinghua University in Beijing and he is currently the chairman of the Chinese Literature Department.

Avant-Garde Experiments: Subversion Though Gei Fei had begun writing for the school bulletin board in university, he regarded the story “Remembering Mr Wu You” (Zhuiyi Wu You xiansheng, 追忆乌攸先生, Zhongguo, 2, 1986) as his first publication that marked his awareness of

the narrative self. It was written on a train ride after Ge Fei’s field trip in spring 1985. The story concerns the issue of how to deal with past wrongdoing. It begins with three police investigators coming to interview villagers about an old murder case, but the villagers are reluctant to talk; hence, suspense is created. As the plot develops, it is revealed that Mr Wu, the herbal doctor, was accused of raping and killing his apprentice Xingzi (杏子) and was executed in haste by a local judge. It was later found out that the village head was the murderer, but he had died of a disease. Intending to forget about the shameful past, the village elders earnestly warn the young people: “Time will make people forget everything.” Through this kind of forced amnesia, Ge Fei raises an important question in the context of post-Cultural Revolution China. Skepticism of orthodox history is a common theme of the avant-garde. Ge Fei’s second story, “Lost Boat” (Mizhou, 迷舟, Shouhuo, 6, 1987), is a superb example of the truthfulness of history being questioned through the tragic death of a military hero. The narrative follows the subjective emotional flow of the hero Xiao (萧), but not as part of the prescribed grand historical discourse. During the Northern Expedition (1928), Xiao leads a group of soldiers to near his home village, on a mission for the warlord Sun Chuanfang (孙 传芳, 1885–1935). He decides to attend his father’s funeral. This side journey turns out to be a disaster, as predicted by a fortune-teller. Xiao rekindles his love for Xingzi (杏子), his first love, and goes to her village Yuguan (玉关) the next day. When the affair is exposed, her husband injures Xingzi, and Xiao escapes. The story does not end here but takes an unexpected turn. Upon Xiao’s return to his headquarters, he is shot by his bodyguard, who turns out to be a secret agent of Sun Chuanfang, watching if Xiao goes to Yuguan to inform his elder brother, who works for the rival Nationalists. Xiao’s real motivations, hence, remain forever ambiguous. Ge Fei also questions the instability and indeterminacy of meaning in language. “Green Yellow” (Qinghuang, 青黄, Shouhuo, 6, 1988) is derived from Ge Fei’s field trip for a university course to collect samples of dialects in Jiande County (建德 县), Zhejiang Province. The researcher narrator goes to a village to find out the meaning of the term “green yellow.” At first, he finds the term meant “history of prostitution,” which dates back to the Nine-surname Boat People along the Suzi River


(苏子河), who were forbidden to go ashore by the Ming court because of their support for the peasant leader Chen Youliang (陈友谅, 1320– 1363). Some of the Boat People women became prostitutes. However, an old man the research team meets interprets the term “green yellow” as the name of a dog. Toward the end of the narrative, he finds out that it is also the name of a plant. The journey looking for a definite meaning of “green yellow” turns out to be a discovery of many possible meanings. Subversion of the class-struggle theory is dealt with in Ge Fei’s “New Year’s Eve” (Da nian, 大 年, Shanghai wenxue, 8, 1988), which depicts in fragments the violent deaths of a landlord and a crook during a famine in the Republican period. According to Mao’s literary dictates, it is not permissible to portray a highly respected member of the gentry and charitable landlord as such, nor to portray a crook as being a member of the New Fourth Army Soldiers of the PLA. In Ge Fei’s subversive narration, the landlord donates grain, not only to the poor villagers, but also to the New Fourth-Route Soldiers. The thief, in contrast, leads the hungry villagers to rob the landlord’s granary and shoots him. The thief, in turn, is killed by the herbal doctor, who has secret contacts with the New Fourth Army Soldiers. Contrary to one’s expectation, the herbal doctor does not go to meet up with the army, but disappears with the landlord’s concubine, again subverting the preconceived notion of what a hero should be. Ge Fei’s most controversial novella, “A Flock of Brown Birds” (Hese niaoqun, 褐 色 鸟 群 , Zhongshan, 2, 1988), exemplifies his narrative labyrinth. It is also an exploration of the unreliability of memory and absurdity of reality. It is not a complete story in the conventional sense, with a beginning, middle, and end. It is an incomplete story within another incomplete story, told by a sensitive and lonely writer living by the water, whose only comfort is to watch the brown birds fly across the sky. He is writing a book to be devoted to his wife, who died of a stroke on their wedding night, which was her birthday. Nothing more is known about him, except for his four mysterious encounters. First, a woman painter dressed in orange, named Qi (棋), claims to know the narrator; second, nine years ago, he followed a woman in brown and watched her walk across a wooden bridge, but an old man told him that the bridge was broken years ago, and there was no

woman crossing the bridge; third, nine years later, he spotted the woman again, got to know her, and eventually married her, but she died on their wedding night, her birthday; fourth, Qi walked by his place and told him she did not know him at all. Trying to clarify what really happens would mean missing the point that Ge Fei wants to convey, which is the unreliability of memory and randomness of life. Ge Fei’s first novel, Enemy (Diren, 敌人, 1990), deals with humans’ self-inflicted hatred, revenge, and paranoia. Set in a village during the Republican period, it focuses on the decay of the Zhao (赵) family after a house fire. The fire that burnt the big mansion haunts, not only the elders, but also the younger generation. Who the three suspects are remains a mystery. The focal character is the grandson, Zhao Shaozhong (赵少忠), who was four years old when the fire happened, and now he is 60. Living in the shadow of the unknown enemies, he and two sons and two daughters are in constant fear, anxiety, and paranoia. Their miserable psychological state is reflected by the appearance of dead mice, a drowned monkey, foul smells, eerie sounds, and dark shadows. The tragic deaths of his three sons and a daughter and the unhappy marriage of his elder daughter conclude the family’s selfdestruction. Ge Fei skillfully sustains the tense paranoia through the depictions of the human senses of hearing, sight, smell, taste, and touch and nature imagery. Ge Fei’s second novel, The Margin (Bianyuan, 边缘, 1992), deals with memory and confession. It is a calm but fragmentary recollection of a 90year-old man whose life encompasses almost a century of recent Chinese history. Ge Fei deemphasizes the commonly known political events of the dominant discourse, but focuses on the individual feelings, thoughts, and confusion of the first-person narrator. The narrator’s childhood recollections include his father’s death due to disease, his grave in the dark woods, and his ghost fixing the clock at night. Another recollection is his mother, who lived until old age when she became mentally unbalanced. He also recalls his wife Dujuan (杜鹃), who stayed in the village during his absence in the army and, after 1949, remained loyal to him, despite his infidelity. Ge Fei has created a sustained text of a personal recollection, which is replete with uncertainty and fantasy.


Beyond Avant-Garde: Synthesis By the early 1990s, avant-garde writers had begun to make adjustments to their experiments when they realized that the general reading public did not appreciate their oblique style. In 1992, Ge Fei’s novella “The Idiot’s Poems” (Shagua de shipian, 傻瓜的诗篇, Zhongshan, 5, 1992) shows a turn to more down-to-earth reality and more straightforward narration, while maintaining his skepticism. Through the interactions between a psychiatrist and patients, Ge Fei reveals the damage caused by the Cultural Revolution to people’s mental health. The real aim of the narrative is to question the boundary between normal and abnormal. This process can lead to unpredictable results, as shown in the twist at the end, where the patient recovers, but the psychiatrist becomes insane. Ge Fei’s novel Flag of Desire (Yuwang de qizhi, 欲望的旗帜, Shouhuo, 5, 1995) departs from his early avant-garde stories in a more direct style and with more connection to contemporary reality. It is a campus fiction set in mid-1990s Shanghai. By then, Ge Fei had taught at university in Shanghai for almost ten years. Using his knowledge and experiences, he captures vividly the conditions of academia in terms of their emotional and intellectual life, caught up in China’s ever-quickening commercialization. The holding of a national conference of philosophers forms the temporal and spatial structure of the novel. The conference forms a stage for the academic characters, not only to debate scholarly ideas, but also to compete for fame and power. What highlight the conference are not scholarly issues, but, ironically, three shocking happenings: the suicide of the chairman of the conference, Professor Jia (贾) by jumping from his apartment; the arrest of the corrupt criminal sponsor of the conference; and the incomprehensible speech given by an insane professor. These three incidents parallel the development of the love–hate relationships between the protagonist and his two divorced wives. Written with wit, irony, and frequent intellectual dialogues, it is one of the outstanding campus novels in contemporary Chinese fiction. In the first decade of the 21st century, Ge Fei’s “Peach Blossom Trilogy”—Peach Blossom (Renmian taohua, 人面桃花, 2004), Mountains and Rivers in Dream (Shanhe rumeng, 山河入梦, 2007), and Spring Ends in Southern Yangtze (Chunjin jiangnan, 春尽江南, 2009)—marks his shift toward greater emphasis on characterization,

plot structure, and direct dialogues, as well as the taste of traditional Chinese literati. He makes use of dreams, diaries, poetry, and local historical records to embellish his narration. In an interview, Ge Fei fully acknowledged the value of classical Chinese fiction.2 The loosely linked trilogy, hence, signals his effort to unite his experimental technique with the classical Chinese tradition. The trilogy won the Mao Dun Literary Prize in 2015. The image of “peach blossom” immediately makes the association with two classical works: one is the famous essay “Peach Blossom Spring” (Taohuayuan ji, 桃花源记) by the Jin dynasty poet Tao Yuanming (陶渊明, 365–427),3 which laments the loss of the Utopia. The other is the poem “Peach Blossom Face” (Renmian taohua, 人面桃 花) by Tang poet Cui Hu (崔护, ca. 796), which conveys the transience of human life and beauty.4 Both are pessimistic in tone. These two classical works are relevant to the trilogy on two levels. In terms of the transience of life, the female protagonists of all three novels die tragically—Xiumi (秀米) dies as a released prisoner after the collapse of her communist Utopian program, Yao Peipei (姚佩佩) is executed after killing the rapist, who is a high-ranking official, and Pang Liyu (庞丽玉) dies of cancer. Encompassing more than a century of recent Chinese history, these three novels share one theme—the search for Utopia—and the disastrous consequences. The main characters of these novels are from four generations of the Lu (陆) family. In the communist revolutionary discourse of modern literature, the young generation is usually portrayed as being progressive, and the older generation as conservative, to be overthrown. Ge Fei, however, does not follow this pattern. In this trilogy, the idea of searching and building a better society comes from the old family tradition. It passes on from the great-grandfather (retired literati official) to the daughter (well-versed in poetry) and to her son and grandson. Set in the late Qing period, the first novel, Peach Blossom, particularly demonstrates Ge Fei’s elegant style, with his frequent use of classical poetic images and diction (drastically different from his avant-garde writing). The place for Xiumi (秀米) to implement her Utopian ideals (as in the first novel) is the island village Huajiashe (花家舍), literally “flower lodge”. It becomes the place of a commune-like community, but it fails. The pessimism carries on to the third novel, which is the People’s Commune


System at the national scale, and it fails too, miserably. Different from many writers of rural origin, Ge Fei does not give a realistic representation of peasant life per se, but uses the rural only as a backdrop for his artistic and philosophical exploration. Ge Fei’s most significant contribution is his experimental fiction in which he subverts long-held assumptions, ideas, and practices, as well as readers’ expectations of chronological sequence, conventional characterization, and themes. His literary innovations are accompanied by a philosophical probing into the reality of life in all its illogicality, unpredictability, incomprehensibility, and absurdity. In the early 21st century, he started to draw inspiration from classical Chinese literature, while at the same time incorporating reality, as in his “Peach Blossom Trilogy.” This gesture of returning to the past can be seen in two angles: one, a camouflage of political critique; and the other, a re-recognition of and reverence for China’s literati tradition. Ge Fei has written essays on the art of fiction in such works as Syren’s Songs (Sairen de gesheng, 塞壬的歌声, 2001) and On Narrative Technique of Fiction (Xiaoshu xushi yanjiu, 小 说 叙 述 研 究 , 2002), making him both a highly respected writer and intellectual. He is China’s David Lodge.

Notes 1. See Ge Fei and Ren Bin (任贇), “Ge Fei zhuanlüe” (格非传略, Brief Biography of Ge Fei), in Dangdai zuojia pinglun (当代作家评论), 4, 2005, pp. 105–116. 2. See (accessed 14 March 2016). 3. Tao Yuanming’s “Taohuayuan ji” (桃花源记, Record of Peach Blossom Spring) depicts a fisherman’s journey along a stream that leads to a forgotten community where people live in great harmony. When he tries to locate it again afterwards, it is nowhere to be found.

4. The poem by Cui Hu (崔护) says, “This day last year, by this door/your face blushes like peach blossom/ where are you now?/peach blossoms are still smiling in the wind” (去年今日此园中,人面桃花相映红,人面 不知何处去,桃花依旧笑春风。).

Translations into English “The Lost Boat” (trans. Caroline Mason), in Henry Zhao (ed.), The Lost Boat: Avant-Garde Fiction from China. London: Wellsweep Press, 1993, pp. 77–100. “Remembering Mr Wu You” (trans. Howard Goldblatt), in Howard Goldblatt (ed.), Chairman Mao Would Not Be Amused: Fiction from Today’s China. New York: Grove Press, 1995, pp. 236–243. Reprinted in Jing Wang (ed.), China’s Avant-Garde Fiction: An Anthology. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1998, pp. 15–22. “Green Yellow” (trans. Eva Shan Chou), in Jing Wang (ed.), China’s Avant-Garde Fiction, ibid., pp. 23–42. “Whistling” (trans. Victor H. Mair), in Jing Wang (ed.), China’s Avant-Garde Fiction, ibid., pp. 43–68. “Meetings” (trans. Deborah Mills), in Henry Zhao and John Cayley (eds.), Abandoned Wine: Chinese Writing from Today, 2. London: Wellsweep, 1996, pp. 15–49. “Encounter,” in Herbert Batt (ed.), Tales of Tibet: Sky Burials, Prayer Wheels, and Wind Horses. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2001, pp. 77–104. “The Mystified Boat,” in Frank Stewart and Herbert J. Batt (eds.), Mystified Boat and Other New Stories from China, special issue of Manoa: A Pacific Journal of International Writing, 15, 2 (Winter 2003). Honolulu, HI: University of Hawai’i Press, pp. 142–161. “A Date in Purple Bamboo Park,” in Frank Stewart and Herbert J. Batt (eds.), ibid., pp. 1–7. “Ring Flower” (trans. Eleanor Goodman), Chinese Literature Today, 4, 1 (2014): 6–11. “Song of Liangzhou” (trans. Eleanor Goodman), Chinese Literature Today, 4, 1 (2014): 12–15.

H HAN SHAOGONG (韓少功, B. 1953) Rustication and Root-Searching Han Shaogong is among the most accomplished Chinese writers to make use of their rusticated experience as a source of literary creation. He was a leading figure in “Xungen wenxue” (寻根文学, Root-Searching Literature), the first significant literary movement to emerge in the mid-1980s. Since the 1980s, he has been invited to visit many countries, including Germany, France, and the United States, and was granted the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by France in 2002. His fictional works have been translated into such languages as English, French, German, Italian, Korean, and Japanese. Han Shaogong was born in Changsha (长沙), Hunan Province. He grew up in a politically unfavorable family, because his father had worked for the Nationalist government before the CCP came to power. Even though his father had been a teacher of communist party cadres, when the Cultural Revolution broke out in 1966, he became a target of attack. Wanting to save the family from trouble, his father left home, and, three weeks later, his body was found. The unknown details of his father’s tragic death remained a mystery that turned into a nightmare that haunted him, as revealed in his autobiographical novella “Shoe Obsession” (Xie pi, 鞋癖, 1991),1 in which the firstperson narrator often has the fantasy of seeing his father in a crowd, or hears the rattling sound of his father’s old armchair. Han Shaogong was a Red Guard for more than two years before he was sent as a Zhiqing to Tianjing (天井), Miluo County (汨罗县), in Hunan

Province in December 1968. He worked on a tea farm for four years and, in 1972, moved in with a peasant family. He wrote for blackboard newspapers and propagandistic stage plays for the commune. In 1974, his first story, “Pushing the Hot Furnace Uphill” (Hong lu shang shan, 烘炉上 山), appeared in the second issue of Xiangjiang Literature & Art (Xiangjiang wenyi, 湘江文艺). In the same year, he was transferred to the local culture office of Miluo County. In 1977, he entered the Department of Chinese Literature, Hunan Normal University (湖南师范大学) in Changsha. In late 1978 and early 1979, he participated in the promotion of democracy in student elections.2 Miluo County, the place of Han Shaogong’s rustication for six years, became, not only a setting for most of his fiction, but also a place of repeated visits, and, finally in 2000, his home. What separates him from many other Zhiqing writers is that he is constantly reinterpreting his rustication memories, and that his narratives are told mostly by the first-person Zhiqing narrator. He is a Zhiqing writer in a true sense. His writing developed in three stages.

First Stage: Social critique, suffering, and redemption Han Shaogong’s early stories in the 1980s tend to deal with the suffering in rural China seen from the perspective of a sent-down youth. His story “Yuelan” (Yuelan, 月兰, Renmin wenxue, 4, 1979) is based on a real tragedy. Set in 1974, it was among the first stories in the post-Mao era to expose the extreme rural policies, which disregarded human life in the name of the revolution. The first-person narrator, a careerist Zhiqing turned cadre, orders the commune members to


“cut the tail of capitalism” by banning raising chickens for private profit. When he meets with resistance from the poor peasants, he puts poison in the fields, which leads to catastrophic consequences. Yuelan’s four chickens, her only source of income on which she relies for her son’s school fees, are killed. This pushes her to despair, and she drowns herself. In the fiction of the Cultural Revolution, the action of the party cadre would have been upheld as revolutionary, and Yuelan’s resistance as reactionary. Han Shaogong subverts this pattern by focusing on the oppressive and inhumane treatment of the poor peasants. The critical message is conveyed by the first-person narrator’s sense of guilt and his bringing books and pencils to Yuelan’s son for redemption. That Han Shaogong received several hundred letters from readers shows that Chinese writers at this stage also played the role of political critic. Han Shaogong’s prize-winning short story “Looking Westward at the Thatch Grass Fields” (Xiwang maocao di, 西望茅草地, Renmin wenxue, 10, 1980) is another social critique from the perspective of a sent-down youth. It concerns a devoted cadre who abandons common sense by overglorifying manual work at the expense of efficiency. Han Shaogong’s critique touches upon a sensitive spot of the leadership: Are cadres whose minds have been trapped by dogmatic thinking suitable to rule in the post-Mao era? Film director Wu Ziniu (吴子牛, b. 1952) was interested in making a film based on the story, but the plan had to be aborted owing to political intervention. Han Shaogong depicts the guilt of a silent collaborator in the short story “Suona Melody in the Wind” (Feng chui suona sheng, 风吹锁呐声, Renmin wenxue, 9, 1981). Yaba (哑巴) is deaf and mute, but he can play the suona (an oboe-like instrument) at festivals and ceremonies for the villagers. He is kind and helpful, but is often bullied by lazy people into doing their work. He dies from an accidental fall when moving heavy objects. Now back in the city, the Zhiqing narrator feels guilty because, even though he did not bully Yaba, by not lending a helping hand, he was a silent collaborator causing Yaba’s death. Whereas many Zhiqing stories deal with the suffering of the sent-down youths, this story is unusual in being centered upon the suffering of a disabled person and the Zhiqing narrator’s confession, despite years having passed since the event. Han Shaogong’s “Flying across the Blue Sky” (Feiguo lantian, 飞过蓝天, Zhongguo qingnian,

13, 1981) is fantastic short story blurring the line between human and animal. The lonely sentdown youth, significantly nicknamed Sparrow, has a close companion, a pigeon. Eager to obtain permission to return to his city home, he painfully gives the pigeon away as a bribe, but it manages to escape. The narrative begins with the vivid depiction of the personified pigeon finding its way back to Sparrow. It travels a long way, overcoming all obstacles. The tragic irony is that, when the exhausted, loyal pigeon finally reaches home, Sparrow, who has failed to obtain permission to leave, angrily fires his gun into the air and accidentally kills the pigeon. The built-up tension stops with the death of the pigeon, creating a shocking effect. When Sparrow discovers what has happened, he is dumbfounded by guilt. He has twice betrayed his only friend.

Second Stage: Root-Searching and fantasy It was no accident that Han Shaogong became a leading figure in Root-Searching Literature. Miluo County, where he was rusticated, was only 20 km from the Qu Yuan Temple, which was built to commemorate the great poet Qu Yuan (屈原, ca. 339–278 BC), who drowned himself in Miluo River to protest against his unjust banishment by the King of Chu (楚王) during the Warring States Period (ca. 475–221 BC). Unlike ordinary sentdown youths, who treated the countryside with a narrow, negative attitude, Han Shaogong showed curiosity toward the local dialects and customs and consciously kept notes and diaries of what he saw and heard. In 1984, ten years after he left the countryside, he went back to explore the customs of the Miao 苗), Dong (侗), Tujia (土家), and Yao (瑶) peoples. In December 1984, a number of young writers, editors, and critics met at a forum (sponsored by the journal Shanghai Literature) in Hangzhou (杭 州 ), Zhejiang Province, with the purposes of searching for a new direction amid the influx of Western literature and theories. It was at this forum that the notion of cultural roots was brought up. In January 1985, Han Shaogong published the article “The ‘Root’ of Literature” (Wenxue de “gen,” 文学的 “根”, Zuojia, 4, 1985), in which he formally adopts the term “rootsearching.” Though not intended to be a fully developed theory, he raises the idea of searching for cultural roots. He opens the essay with the


question of what had happened to the culture of Chu (楚). He states that western Hunan Province, where he was rusticated, was in the area of the State of Chu in the Warring States Period, and that, although Chu culture no longer exists, its remnants could be found in dialects, unofficial histories, anecdotes, folk songs, and folk tales among the minorities. He points out that all literatures have roots, and these roots are deeply embedded in local culture; if the roots are not deep, they will die. He further argues that, although it is normal to borrow ideas from foreign literature, it is also necessary to dig deep into the layers of the Chinese national character and cultural past in order to remold and rebuild them. Han Shaogong, in 1985 and 1986, struck readers with the novellas “Homecoming” (Gui qu lai, 归去来 , also translated as “The Return,” Shanghai wenxue, 6, 1985), “Pa Pa Pa” (Ba Ba Ba, 爸爸爸, Renmin wenxue, 6, 1985), and “Woman Woman Woman” (Nü Nü Nü, 女女女, Shanghai wenxue, 4, 1986), all markedly different from his early works of social criticism in their new predilection for skepticism, fantasy, and, more importantly, root-searching. “Home Coming” is a Kafkaesque tale about the unreliability of memory and the confusion of identity. Suspense permeates the entire narrative. It begins with the first-person narrator Huang Zhixian (黄治先) revisiting a village where he thinks he has been before, as he sees the familiar images of the old water buffalo, the dry tree trunk, the gun towers, and the pebbled road. His assumption soon becomes problematic as he talks with the villagers. They take him to be Ma Yanjing (马眼镜, Ma with glasses), a sent-down youth who lived there ten years ago, who had committed a murder, and whose girlfriend was drowned. Every encounter adds suspense to the plot. Huang takes leave and comes to stay in a hostel in the county seat. He makes a phone call to his friend, who addresses him as Huang Zhixiang. He becomes confused about his identity: is he Huang Zhixian or Ma Yanjing? Or are they both the same person? Perhaps the whole journey has been a dream, because the narrative begins and ends in an ambiguous manner, forming a circular structure. “Pa Pa Pa” has been regarded as representative of Han Shaogong’s works of root-searching. Set in an unspecified time (probably during the early 20th century) and unspecified geographical location (probably somewhere in southern China), the allegorical narrative is shrouded in mystery.

Located high up on a remote mountain, Chicken Head Village is symbolically enveloped in clouds. This is not a Utopia. Its isolation does not immunize the villagers from conflicts. The Chicken Head Village gets into a fierce battle with the Chicken Tail Village, ostensibly over some superstition, but actually it is owing to food shortages. Han Shaogong does not directly depict the violent confrontation between these superstitious people, but only presents the horrifying detail of the defeated villagers being obliged to eat soup made from the dead bodies. This episode is derived from a real event in Dao County, in Hunan Province, during the Cultural Revolution (p. 21).3 Bingzai (丙崽), born with severe mental and physical handicaps, is a symbol of cultural decay. When talking, he can only say “pa pa” and swear, “x your mother.” Reminiscent of Lu Xun’s Ah Q, Bingzai is grotesque and pitiful: he is physically deformed and looks old, when he is only 13, a sign of early decline. Even though Bingzai eats the poisonous grass soup, symbolically, he reemerges very much alive after the departure of his clansmen, implying the persistence of negative elements in Chinese culture. Root-Searching Literature is not limited to stories set in rural China, but is also set in the city. “Woman Woman Woman” explores human psychology through alienation of human relationships. The narrator’s aunt is deaf and paraplegic. Once kind and gentle, now she is very demanding. Her physical handicaps become a means for her to vent her hidden anger toward her family members. The narrative opens another dimension after she is sent to her sworn sister in the countryside. The latter, growing tired of serving her, locks her in a cage, in which she turns into a fish. Here, Han Shaogong brings in the elements of fantasy to suggest deterioration in humanity. After the 1990s, Han Shaogong continued to use fantastic elements in his fiction. For instance, in “Hidden Fragrance” (Anxiang, 暗香, 1994),4 a retired editor is visited by a stranger whose body emits a flower fragrance. Ten years later, the visitor appears again and reveals he had been sent to labor reform during the Cultural Revolution. The editor searches through his boxes and finds an old, unfinished manuscript in which he created a character whose name is exactly the same as the visitor, but who has been demoted to look after flower plants. In this story, Han Shaogong skillfully blends the real and the unreal, the familiar


and the strange, as well as unreliable memory and unexplainable reality.

Third Stage: Further explorations through novels In February 1988, Han Shaogong, fascinated by the scenery of Hainan Province, decided to move there with his family. He became the founding editor of Hainan Chronicles (Hainan jishi, 海南纪 事, and turned this near-bankrupt state-run enterprise into a magazine with a circulation of more than 1 million. Because the magazine was used as a platform for cultural critique, it was banned, along with 300 other publications, after the Tian’anmen Incident in 1989, and Han Shaogong was put under investigation. In 1995, Han Shaogong was elected chairman of the Hainan Writers’ Association and became the head of the journal Tianya (天涯, Horizon). Under his effective leadership, the journal became a site for energetic cultural debate. Han Shaogong was fascinated by the dialects and local customs of Miluo district when he was a sent-down youth. In the 1990s, he drew on this experience to write his first novel, Dictionary of Maqiao (Maqiao Cidian, 马桥辞典, 1997). Han Shaogong leads his reader to an unfamiliar locale, Ma Qiao (Horse Bridge), which is governed by a unique system of words and codes. The Zhiqing narrator is not a passing traveler, but is intimately involved with the local people, thus giving credibility and coherence to the narrative. The structure is similar to a dictionary. The 115 entries are laid out in such a way that, theoretically, the novel can be entered at any point. However, the reader is expected to read linearly, because the lives and deeds of some characters recur in different entries. Han Shaogong has consciously broken away from the conventional pattern of focusing on central characters and main plot lines. He has created a postmodern work that de-emphasizes a center but allows the diverse entries to form the narrative, which seems to have no fixed points of beginning and ending. With regard to the dictionary structure, Han Shaogong said: I’d been writing fiction for ten or so years, but I liked reading and writing fiction less and less—I am, of course, referring to the traditional kind of fiction, which has a very strong sense of plot. Main character, main plot,

main mood block out all else, dominating the field of vision of both reader and writer, preventing any sidelong glances. Any occasional casual digression is no more than a fragmentary embellishment of the main line, the temporary amnesty of a tyrant. Admittedly, there is nothing to say this kind of fiction can’t approach one angle on the truth. But all you have to do is think a little, and you realize that most of the time real life isn’t like that, it doesn’t fit into one guiding, controlling line of cause and effect.5 Han Shaogong has written a text with ethnological and linguistic value. The entries are not just words; they have the power to determine the fates of the speakers. For instance, those who have the “huafen” (话份, speech rights), such as the party cadre Benyi (本义), have power and respect. Some, such as women, children, and former landlords, have little or no “speech rights.” The translator Julia Lovell, in her preface, neatly conveys Han Shaogong’s perceptive subtlety: “Even against the Orwellian backdrop of Maoist China . . . language and history do not become fixed, controllable entities; words and meanings are mutated, misrepresented, and invented by everyone.”6 In reaction to the charges made by Zhang Yiwu (张颐武), a critic and professor of Beijing University, that A Dictionary of Maqiao was “totally modeled upon Dictionary of the Khazars (1988)” (by Milorad Pavic, a Yugoslavian writer), and by Wang Gan (王干, a Nanjing critic), that the novel was an imitation of a foreign writer (meaning Milorad Pavic), Han Shaogong took the case to court and eventually won it. This lawsuit became the largest of its kind in the 1990s. In 2001, the work was given the best novel award in the Fourth Contest of Novellas and Novels in Shanghai and was listed as one of the top 100 works of 20th-century Chinese fiction by Asia Weekly. It even won the Best Book Award of the Chinese Times (中国时报, Taiwan) and United News (联合报, Taiwan). In a fragmentary form, Han Shaogong’s novel Intimations (Anshi, 暗示, 2002) contains four parts, each with 113 entries on various topics: hidden images, images in life, images in society, and images in words. The length of the entries varies from one page to five pages. Though Han Shaogong said in the postscript that the characters and the events are fictional, he did not attempt to disguise his authorship. Revisiting the past is still his preoccupation.


Out of the 113 entries, about 50 of them are directly or indirectly drawn from his memory of rustication. They contain Han Shaogong’s critical reflections on the Cultural Revolution and people of his generation, as seen in the entries “confession,” “red sun,” “loyalty dance,” and “cruelty.” The formal structure of this novel does not contain a story line or lines in the conventional sense, but scattered, yet interrelated, short essay pieces. Its content is flexible and loosely revolves around the narrator. Han Shaogong’s purpose seems to conceive a new concept of the novel. However, its total artistic effect is not as successful. In 2005, Han Shaogong published Report to the Government (Baogao zhengfu, 报告政府 ), which contains 11 short stories and novellas. These stories demonstrate Han Shaogong’s skillful control over his subject. For instance, in “Brothers” (Xiongdi, 兄弟), he unhurriedly traces the disintegration of a family, from the Cultural Revolution to the 1990s. The most tragic part is that the father, a model revolutionary worker, naively reports his third son’s secret involvement in the printing and dissemination of underground material to the police, leading to the execution. But Han Shaogong explores this tragedy further. After Mao’s death, the third son could qualify as a martyr. This new possibility poses a conflict for the surviving brothers: the second brother abandons the application for martyrdom in order not to hurt the father’s feelings. The oldest brother, however, uses the dead brother’s case for his personal political advancement. The past is overshadowed by materialism and historical amnesia. Han Shaogong’s 2013 novel Day and Night Chronicles (Riye shu, 日夜书) revisits the theme of rustication. It deals with five sent-down youths, from the beginning of the Rustication Movement to the present. The longer time span allows the first-person narrator to depict the changes in his fellow friends, along with Chinese society. Han Shaogong explores how early life as Red Guard and Zhiqing have been ingrained in the personalities of his generation, and how history has also whitewashed their pain, friendship, and memory. Han Shaogong is also a thoughtful essayist, with a strong interest in cultural, linguistic, and historical issues. He said that he wanted to say things clearly in his essays, and those things he couldn’t make clear in essays, he would tell in his fiction. Since the early 1980s, he has published many essays about creative writing and social and cultural issues.

In 2000, to realize his dream of returning to a simple life, Han Shaogong resigned from his job as editor of Horizon and the chairmanship of the Hainan Writers’ Association. He and his wife built a house by a reservoir in Bajingtong (八景峒) in Miluo County, where they spent six years as Zhiqing. In 2003, he was again elected chairman of the Hainan Union of Writers and Artists, but was exempted from daily administrative duties. He spends half of the year in Hainan and half in Bajingtong. In 2006, he completed Southern Hill Northern Water (Shannan Shuibei, 山南水北, 2007), which contains a collection of 99 short essays (with photographs) covering his country life. What emerges is a writer and cultural critic who puts into practice his literary thoughts on root-searching by returning to nature, but without losing contact with the outside world. From his departure from Miluo to his return to Miluo, he has come full circle.

Notes 1. Han Shaogong, Xiepi (鞋 癖 , Shoe Obsession). Wuhan: Changjiang wenyi chubanshe, 1994, pp. 209–231. 2. For Han Shaogong’s biographical information, see Gao Jian (高见, Han Shaogong pingzhuan (韩少 功 评 传 , Critical Biography of Han Shaogong). Zhengzhou: Henan wenyi chubanshe, 2008. 3. See Shi Shuqing (施叔青), “Niao de chuanren: yu Hunan zuojia Han Shaogong duitan” (鸟的传人:与 湖南作家韩少功对谈, Bird descendants: A Dialogue with Hunan Writer Han Shgogong), collected in Han Shaogong’s story collection Mousha (谋杀, Murder). Taipei: Yuanjing chuban shiye gongsi, 1989, pp. 9–29. 4. Published in Han Shaogong, Lingxiu zhisi (领袖之死 , Death of a Leader). Taiyuan: Beiyue wenyi chubanshe, 2001, pp. 160–172. 5. A Dictionary of Maqiao, pp. 70–71. 6. A Dictionary of Maqiao, p. ix.

Translations into English “Deaf-mute and His ‘Suona’ Song” (trans. Song Shouquan), Chinese Literature, 1 (1983): 7–33. “The Return” (trans. Alice Childs), Chinese Literature, Summer (1989): 29–44; “The Homecoming,” in Jeanne Tai (trans. and comp.), Spring Bamboo: A Collection of Contemporary Chinese Short Stories. New York: Random House, 1989, pp. 19–40; “Déjà vu” (trans. Margaret H. Decker), in Helen Siu (comp. and ed.), Furrows, Peasants, Intellectuals, and the State: Stories and Histories from Modern China. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1990, pp. 223–237.


“Old Acquaintance,” in Long Xu (ed.), Recent Fiction from China, 1987–1988: Selected Stories and Novellas. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen, 1991, pp. 55–63. “Blue Bottlecap” (trans. Michael Duke), in Michael Duke (ed.), Worlds of Modern Chinese Fiction: Short Stories and Novellas from the People’s Republic, Taiwan and Hong Kong. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1991, pp. 3–12. Homecoming? and Other Stories by Han Shaogong (trans. Martha Cheung). Hong Kong: Renditions, 1992. Includes: “The Blue Bottle Cap,” “Pa Pa Pa,” and “Woman, Woman, Woman.” “After the ‘Literature of the Wounded’: Local Cultures, Roots, Maturity, and Fatigue” (trans. David Wakefield), in Helmut Martin and Jeffrey Kinkley (eds.), Modern Chinese Writers: Self-Portrayals. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1992, pp. 148–154. “The Leader’s Demise” (trans. Thomas Moran), in Joseph S.M. Lau and Howard Goldblatt (eds.), The Columbia Anthology of Modern Chinese Literature. New York: Columbia University Press, 1995, pp. 387–398. “Legacy of a Laugh” (trans. Christena Leveton), Chinese Literature, Spring (1995): 171–177. A Dictionary of Maqiao (trans. Julia Lovell). New York: Columbia University Press, 2003.

HE LIWEI (何立伟, B. 1954) Innovator of Narrative Language In the early 1980s, while most Chinese writers coming out of the ruins of the Cultural Revolution were taking advantage of the relaxed literary milieu to pour out their tales, those with special artistic vision had begun to search for new ways of expression. In other words, they had turned their attention from “what to write” to “how to write.” Chinese literary language underwent two great changes in the 20th century. From the May Fourth Movement to the late 1940s, Chinese literary language was heavily affected by the grammar of Western languages (particularly English) through translation works. After 1949, Chinese literary language was further contaminated by the ideological rhetoric, resulting in so-called Maospeak. To regain the purity, vigor, and beauty of Chinese literary language, artistic vision and courage were required. In 1980, Wang Zengqi (汪 曾 祺 , 1920–1998) set a good example with the simplistic beauty of his short fiction. He Liwei went further in his innovation, with striking results.

He Liwei belongs to the Zhiqing generation. He was born in Changsha, Hunan Province, and still lives there. He entered Hunan Normal College in 1978 and graduated in 1982 with a major in Chinese literature. He taught for several years at the Number 23 Middle School in Changsha and worked as an advertisement designer. Currently, he is a professional writer and serves as chief editor of the journal Creation (Chuangzuo, 创作), chairman of the Changsha Union of Writers and Artists, and vice-chairman of the Hunan Writers’ Association. He Liwei’s fiction writing progresses through two distinct stages.

First Stage (1983–1986): Poetic short fiction He Liwei began writing fiction in 1983. Before that, for two years, he had tried his hand at poetry and had developed a keen interest in the use of words/images. He paid attention to the ideographic nature of Chinese characters and made use of this quality to construct the poetic quality in his stories. Very different from those post-Mao writers who tend to represent reality with a direct and discernible orientation—for instance, as in many stories in Scar Literature—He Liwei consciously strived to avoid such directness. He Liwei has been regarded as a follower of prominent writer Wang Zengqi, who excelled in incorporating the aesthetic use of “emptiness” from Chinese painting in fiction writing. In both writers, we find the characteristic application of concise diction, subtlety of meaning, and gaps in plot development. He Liwei endeavors to deconstruct habitual language usage in order to create a defamiliarization effect, such as disruption of word order, duplication of words, personification, striking images, and deletion of certain particles. He emphasizes the creation of atmosphere and mood, rather than plot and characterization. His narrator does not come out to point in this direction and that direction, but leaves room for the reader’s imagination. His short fiction is strikingly poetic, delicate, and lyrical. Wang Zengqi remarks, in the preface to He Liwei’s story collection No Story in a Small Town (Xiaocheng wu gushi, 1986), that He Liwei uses fiction to write poetry (p. 7).1 The ironically titled story “No Stories in a Small Town” (Xiaocheng wu gushi, 小城无故事, Renmin wenxue, 9, 1983) exemplifies He Liwei’s


style. The omniscient narrator begins the story by saying that the small town is so peaceful and quiet, as if nothing happens. This statement is soon subverted with the appearance of a beautiful, crazy, 30-year-old woman. Suspense is created as to who she is and what made her insane. The sight of three male travelers, leisurely touring the streets eating local foods, catches her attention. The narrator, however, does not explain the woman’s behavior, but only lets her utter some broken sentences. From her immediate attachment to the young travelers, saying “you are back!” and “I will sing for you,” it is surmised that the man she loves was obviously an outsider like these travelers, and he had promised to return but never did. One of the young travelers makes a causal joke with her that he wants to see her at dusk by the bridge and listen to her songs. Toward the night, the three young men are leaving, feeling satisfied with the tour. They take the food and the gifts they bought for their fiancées, not aware at all that the poor woman is waiting in vain at the bridge in the distance. This may well be a typical small-town story, one in which a local, innocent girl falls in love with a transient tourist. But the author just leaves it at that and comments no more. He Liwei’s “The White Birds” (Baise niao, 白 色鸟, Renmin wenxue, 4, 1984) won a 1984 National Best Short Stories award. With this story, he rose to the ranks of innovative writers. Though set in the Cultural Revolution, its representation is entirely different from most Scar stories, which tend to be replete with actions involving discernable victimizers and victims. “The White Birds” is a simple tale about two teenage boys, told by a low-key, omniscient narrator. The boy protagonist is sent by his parents from the city to stay with his aunt in a village in order to avoid trouble. What the parents are actually facing is not said. Encouraged by his aunt, he walks out of the village and rambles in nature every day, watching the birds flying around the lake. There, he befriends another boy and enjoys his company. The beauty and tranquility of the lake are conjured up by the key image of the white birds—which, as a key image, plays the function of “poetic eye” in Chinese poetic aesthetics. Toward the end, the serene atmosphere that has built up is suddenly dismantled by the sound of the banging of gongs and yelling of people from the village across the lake. The white birds are startled, just like the innocent boys. Only now is the horror of the Cultural Revolution suddenly revealed: it is time

to hold the struggle meeting. The noise and the violent implications not only break the peace, they also reveal that the aunt, who wanted to protect the boy, had sent him out of the village every day. Whether in the city or in the village, the boy cannot, after all, escape being exposed to the horror of violence. So are the startled white birds. The simplicity of the tale actually carries heavy sociopolitical content. “Moving” (Banjia, 搬家, Changjiang wenyi, 1, 1985) is an allegorical tale built upon subtlety and the technique of repetition. As usual, a grandmother takes her little grandson out to a bridge, where they watch a train pass by. There is no description about her background. She answers the questions posed by the curious little boy about the train, just like any grandmother does. A lapse of time occurs. One day, the grandmother sadly tells the little boy that she can’t come with him anymore, because she has to leave town for good. No detail is given. The temporal setting of the Cultural Revolution is suggested when she says some gangs came the night before. The innocent boy asks why she does not move faraway. The grandmother makes no reply, implying it is an order from above. Another lapse of time occurs. Now, the little boy is a father and he takes his little boy to the bridge to watch the train pass by. His son asks similar questions about the train. But the father, thinking of the old grandmother, who had died alone in the countryside, tears up, unable to speak. The last sentence reiterates that they still live in the same place. Time has changed—the political slogans on the walls have been replaced by commercial advertisements.

Second Stage: Urban temptations, intellectuals, the Cultural Revolution After 1986, He Liwei expanded his subject matter to depict the fast-changing Chinese society in economic reform. Whereas He Liwei’s innovation in literary expression is best demonstrated in his short stories set in the past, his longer works (novellas, novels), dealing with current topics, revert to the conventional realist mode and are less impressive in comparison. This might be owing to the fact that the novel form is not conducive to the highly suggestive, lyrical, and concise narrative style. Wang Zengqi, whom He Liuwei regards as a mentor, did not produce any novels either. His novel Where Are You? (Ni zai nali? 你在哪 里?, 1995) deals with the theme of the moral


degeneration of an intellectual. The novella “Lao Kan Goes on a Trip” (Lao Kao qu lüxing, 老康去 旅行)2 is an exposé of the corrupted field of art. The protagonist, who is a professor of painting, is no longer a poor, steadfast intellectual, as before. Using his fame and resources, he has turned into a licentious artist, satisfying his sexual desire by taking advantage of women admirers. In the novella “Light and Shadow” (Guang he yingzi, 光与影子, Shouhuo, 1, 1999), He Liwei depicts the loss and gain of money and the search for spiritual meaning. It progresses along two lines. One line revolves around three friends, who are teachers in a technical middle school. During the economic craze in Hainan Island, they went there to do business, made 1.8 million yuan, and returned to Changsha. This money, however, does not make them happy; on the contrary, they feel torn and worn, because they believe that they could have earned 200 million yuan but, owing to mistake in a deal, they ended up with this amount. Now, they do not have to work. They idle their time away in luxurious hotels, but they feel empty. Soon, one dies of cancer, and another is arrested for opening a pornographic bar. The third goes to church, trying to find spiritual comfort. The other line centers upon the writer–narrator, whose writing of TV scripts brings him profit, but he still feels empty. More than other works on similar topics, the novella is permeated with a sense of decadence. He Liwei’s 2006 novel Like the Sun at Eight and Nine O’clock in the Morning (Xiang na bajiu dianzhong de taiyang, 像那八九点钟的太阳, 2006) centers upon the Bildungsroman of three young men, Li Xiao’er (李小二 ), an apprentice, and his two best friends, Houzi (猴子, Monkey) and Xue Jun (薛军), in a state-run meat factory in Changsha, throughout the Cultural Revolution. The narrative vividly depicts the restlessness of these young men in the oppressively puritanical milieu, particularly their curiosity about the opposite sex. It also interweaves occasional black humor with the absurdity of politics. After many

twists and turns, Xue Jun, in order to escape from a relationship with a married woman, leaves to join the army; Monkey is sent to labor reform, after being caught peeping at a woman in the bath; and Li Xiao’er is left alone, dejected but more mature, and continues to live his humdrum life in the meat factory. He Liwei is also known as a talented cartoonist. He had a cartoon column in Taiwan News Daily (Taiwan xinwen bao, 台湾新闻报) for eight years. Sometimes, he drew comic strips for books. In his creative life, he alternates between writing fiction and drawing and taking photographs in Changsha. It is a pity that He Liwei’s later fiction reverted to the language he despised in the early 1980s. Why he made such as change, or compromise, is not clear. This makes one wonder if this type of poetic language is unsuitable for longer works such as novellas and novels. Perhaps his “poetic fiction” fits best in the short fiction form. Regardless, He Liwei is best known for his successful invigoration of the Chinese language after the stifling, politicized, lifeless rhetoric. He will be best remembered as such in the history of contemporary Chinese literature.

Notes 1. Published in He Liwei, Xiaocheng wu gushi (小城无 故事, No Stories in a Small Town), Beijing: Zuojia chubanshe, 1986, pp. 1–8. 2. Published in He Liwei, Gen Aiqing kaikai wanxiao (跟爱情开开玩笑, Joke with Love). Beijing: Xinshijie chubanshe, 2002.

Translations into English “The Limpid Shamu River” (trans. Wu Ling), Chinese Literature, Winter (1989): 51–56. “Gold Prospectors” (trans. Alice Childs), Chinese Literature, Summer (1989): 114–125. “Matters of Small Consequence” (trans. Frances McDonald), Chinese Literature, Winter (1992): 105–113.

I No entries.

J JIA PINGWA (贾平凹, B. 1952) A Member of the Peasant Literati in Xi’an Praised by some scholars as a “qicai” (奇才, extraordinary talent), “guicai” (鬼才, ghost talent), and “guaicai” (怪才, strange talent), Jia Pingwa is an exuberant writer known for his large number of tales set in Shangzhou (商州), his home district, and the capital city of Xi’an (西安), his adopted home, both in Shaanxi Province. Since the mid-1980s, Jia Pingwa has mesmerized readers with a rich repertoire of subjects. By the first decade of the 21st century, he had published 16 novels, many novellas and short stories, as well as collections of essays. Some of Jia Pingwa’s works have generated discussion, the most famous being the 1993 novel Defunct City (Feidu, 废都), which was banned after its first print run for excessive depictions of sex and was only allowed to be reprinted in 2009. Defunct City received the French Prix Femina Étranger in 1997, which caused uproar in China. In 2003, he was awarded the Literature and Art Honor in France. Even though Jia Pingwa had no formal training in calligraphy and painting, his art creations are recognized as unique. The income from his artworks gives him the freedom to write according to his own wishes, without having to cater to the market. He is also an enthusiastic collector and connoisseur of cultural relics, especially earth pottery. Currently, he is chairman of the Xi’an Writers’ Association and Xi’an Union of Writers and Artists, as well as Dean of Arts at Xi’an University of Architecture and Technology. Jia Pingwa’s original name was Jia Liping (贾 李平). Inspired by the Daoist idea that water flows naturally into a concavity—which suggests one

gains more by being humble—he changed his name to (平凹), which literally means “flat and concave.” Jia Pingwa is a native of Dihua Township (棣花镇), Danfeng County (丹风县), in Shaanxi Province. His father was an elementaryschool teacher, and his mother a peasant. He has ten brothers and sisters. During the Cultural Revolution, after completing junior middle school (1967), owing to poverty, he was forced to return home to work as a peasant. Worse still, in 1970, his father was denounced as a “historical counterrevolutionary,” a label that put the whole family in a politically unfavorable position. As luck would have it, one day, Jia Pingwa was sent by the commune to deliver some letters to a reservoir construction site. It so happened that, when he arrived there, a meeting was about to begin, but no one was able to write the big-character poster. Jia Pingwa volunteered, and his calligraphy impressed the local leader, who then recruited him for propaganda work. Jia Pingwa soon became editor, reporter, and page designer for the magazine Work Site Reports (Gongdi zhanbao, 工地战 报). Sometimes, he also served as director for propaganda plays in the local troupe. With all this experience, in 1972, he was recommended by the local authorities to attend Northwest University (Xibei Daxue, 西北大学) as a “worker–peasant– soldier student”. Jia Pingwa began writing poems for the university newspaper, but his first publication was the 1974 essay “Deep Footprints” (Shenshen de jiaoyin, 深深的脚印), which appeared in Xi’an Daily (Xi’an ribao, 西安日报). After graduation in 1975, he was assigned to work as an editor for the literary magazine Chang’an (长安) in Xi’an. In 1978, he became known when his short story “Full Moon” (Manyuer, 满月儿) won a National Best Short Stories award.1


Jia Pingwa has written abundant works about the momentous changes in Chinese society in the last quarter of the 20th century. His fictional world covers a wide range of themes, ranging from political persecutions and the peasants’ reaction to reform to the moral decline in society and the lament of the diminishing of folklore and cultural traditions. He is so eager to represent various Chinese aspects of reality that some of his novels are cluttered with too many details and events. Jia Pingwa is so prolific that it requires a long analysis to do justice to his work. In this short essay, we can only briefly examine three groups of his writing.

Tales from Shangzhou: Peasant life, reform, and root-searching Jia Pingwa often refers to himself as a country bumpkin, even though he has lived for decades in the city of Xi’an. In writing, he draws heavily on his rural experience, and many of his urban characters are connected to the countryside. Shangzhou (商州), the region where his home village is located, is the site where he narrates China, in all its goodness and evil. The Shangzhou district consists of seven counties, bisected by the tributaries of the Dan Jiang River (丹江) and surrounded by mountains. These counties are rich in history. For instance, Wuguan (武关), one of the counties, was an ancient battleground, where people were fond of practicing martial arts, and, in troubled times, many became bandits. This provides rich sources for Jia Pingwa’s bandit stories. Shangzhou is also known for its unusual dampness, lush plant life, and special species of animals, such as colorful snakes, tigers, and bears. Shangzhou people have their own peculiar customs, rituals, and folklore. In using Shangzhou as a fictional setting, Jia Pingwa was actually a forerunner of what came to be called Root-Searching Literature, which emerged in 1985.2 One main difference between Jia Pingwa and other root-searching writers who had rustication experience is that he identifies with Shangzhou and its people, geography, and culture, and is able to draw continuously from his roots. Jia Pingwa entered the Chinese literary scene with stories about the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution, but he soon shifted his attention to the changes in rural China. “Sound of the Weaving Wheel” (Fangche shengsheng, 纺车声声)3 describes how the I narrator (Jia Pingwa in disguise) and his mother endure the hardship of life after the perse-

cution of his father. The image of the mother weaving at night conjures up a sad but warm scene of family love. “February Almond” (Eryue Xing, 二月杏, Changcheng, 4, 1981) is a tale of confession. The geologist protagonist encounters a female Zhiqing who resembles his former girlfriend, whom he abandoned in order to join the Red Guards. Feeling guilty about his act afterwards, he spent 15 years looking for her, but to no avail. The plot revolves around his curiosity about her and ends with his departure after she marries someone far away. He has lost two women he loved, and his remorse remains. Jia Pingwa’s satirical story “A Mountain Town Hostel” (Shanzhen yedian, 山镇野店)4 depicts the servile mentality of the villagers. First, they fight among themselves to occupy the rooms in the hotel, but, as soon as they learn of the arrival of an official, they fight again to yield their rooms to the guest and to meet him. In 1983, Jia Pingwa turned to the theme of selfrealization in rural youth after the dismantling of the People’s Commune System. While depicting rural youths’ desire and courage to break away from conservatism and dogmatism, Jia Pingwa does not condemn their opponents directly but shows understanding and sympathy. This avoids the dichotomization of characters into black and white, as demonstrated in his “Reform Trilogy” (gaige sanbuqu, 改革三部曲), which consists of the novellas “Xiaoyue’s Story” (Xiaoyue Qianben, 小 月前本, Shouhuo, 5, 1983), “Chicken Den Valley” (Jiwowa de renjia, 鸡窝洼的人家, Shiyue, 2, 1984), and “December, January” (Layue, zhengyue, 腊月 、正月, Shiyue, 4, 1984). The pattern that emerges from these three novellas is that the protagonist’s vision of an ideal mate matches his or her attitudes toward the reform. In essence, they resonate with those socialist construction stories of the 1950s, but the stress is on self-realization rather than the collective. For instance, in “Xiaoyue’s Story,” Xiaoyue is betrothed to Caicai (才才), an honest, hard-working, but conservative peasant. By contrast, Menmen (门门) is more flexible and enterprising, and in the end he wins the heart of the girl. In Menmen, Jia Pingwa has created a new reform hero who is ambitious to build his business and, at the same time, shows concern about the public good by building a road for the villagers. Jia Pingwa shows his cultural understanding by not condemning Xiaoyue’s father or Caicai, but depicts their conservatism as being the result of their upbringing and personalities.


In the mid-1980s, three kinds of female image appeared in Jia Pingwa’s Shangzhou stories: the innocent village girl, the traditional housewife, and the unhappily married but rebellious woman. The most poignant is the novella “Madame Black” (Heishi, 黑氏, Renmin wenxue, 10, 1985), in which an unhappily married woman divorces the abusive and lazy husband and, through determination and diligence, manages to build up her own small business. Economic independence gives her strength to liberate herself and to search for true love. Her disappearance with her lover at the end of the story suggests limitless potential for women who are determined to break away from traditional confines.

The City in Turbulence, Defunct City, White Nights, and Gao Xing To Jia Pingwa, Xi’an (the urban) is largely an extension of Shangzhou (the rural). In stories set in the city, some of his characters have rural origins. His first novel, Turbulence (Fuzao, 浮躁, 1987), which won the Pegasus Prize for Literature, is set in Shangzhou in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when China had just come out of the Cultural Revolution and begun its reform. It centers upon the career and love of Jingou (金狗, Golden Dog), a discharged soldier turned entrepreneur in charge of boats transporting goods between counties and, later, a reporter for an urban newspaper. His courageous reporting of a corrupt case initially brings him fame but later imprisonment, which only makes him stronger and gains the devotion of three women. In Golden Dog, Jia Pingwa has created his narcissistic hero who belongs to both the rural and the urban. Water Girl (小水), who is completely willing to sacrifice herself for him, reveals Jia Pingwa’s malechauvinistic wish for an ideal woman. In 1993, Jia Pingwa’s novel Defunct City (Fei du) aroused a great controversy. Reminiscent of Ming and Qing vernacular novels, Defunct City delineates the decadence and debauchery of Xi’an writer Zhuang Zhidie (庄之蝶, which literally means “Zhuangzi’s butterfly”). The name comes from the philosopher Zhuangzi’s (庄子) famous passage about whether he dreams of becoming a butterfly, or a butterfly dreams of becoming himself. Zhuang Zhidie’s symbolic name suggests the theme of the novel. His activities with painters, poets, and calligraphers alternate with his sexual entanglements with four women. The most contro-

versial point of the novel concerns the numerous blank spaces in the lines, informing the reader how many words have been omitted in the description of the sexual activities of Zhuang Zhidie and his women. The device surely achieves its purpose of arousing the reader’s curiosity. The four women who fall readily for Zhuang Zhidie may suggest Jia Pingwa’s narcissism and male-chauvinistic attitude toward women. The novel was a big hit, with half a million copies sold, not counting many millions of pirated copies. It was banned after the first print run for producing “low taste pornography.” That aside, Jia Pingwa has constructed a text permeated with the mood of fin de siècle decadence. After a period of inactivity, Jia Pingwa reemerged two years later with the novel White Nights (Bai Ye, 白夜, 1995), which, set in Xi’an, can be seen as an extension of Defunct City in its decadence, but with a touch of fantasy. The mood of Xi’an is symbolized by the sound of the instrument Xun (埙), which resembles the wailing of a woman. Its player is the melancholic Ye Lang (夜 郎), who is a minor actor. Through Ye Lang’s unsteady life, the narrative unveils Xi’an, a microcosm of China, with all its good and bad characteristics shown in the folk artist, monks, Daoists, crooks, corrupt officials, and myriad forms of art, folk music, carving, calligraphy, painting, poetry, paper-cutting, and ghost drama. The total loss of credibility in human relationships is symbolically shown in Ye Lang’s lover Li Ming (黎铭), who, originally very ugly, has undergone numerous cosmetic surgeries. As his name, Ye Lang (“nightman”), suggests, he belongs to the night. He acts on stage at night and he walks in his sleep. He continues to search for an ideal space, but is trapped in a humdrum existence in the city. The preparation for the performance of the Buddhist play holds the narrative together. Reality and fantasy are blended in the final scene, in which Ye Lang plays the role of the mythical bird Jingwei (精卫) on stage. Pessimism is suggested in a fantasy that Ye Lang finds out that the key from the spirit “Revival Man” (Zai Shengren, 再生人) is invalid. Jia Pingwa’s novel Gao Xing (Gao Xing, 高兴, 2007), also set in Xi’an, deals with the lower stratum of society. It is based on the prototype of Jia Pingwa’s classmate Gao Xing (高兴, Happy), who came to look for a job in Xi’an but ended up working as a garbage collector. Jia Pingwa was inspired by people like Gao Xing and their courage in coping with humiliation and dangerous working


conditions. After doing fieldwork amid the garbage collectors, Jia Pingwa completed the novel in three years. This work puts Jia Pingwa among those writers who portray migrant workers from rural China, a new trend called Lower-strata Literature (diceng wenxue, 底层文学).

The Countryside in Gao Village, Qin Opera, Gulu Village, and Daideng In the 1990s, the idealized picture of Shangzhou in Jia Pingwa’s early fiction had begun to crumble. Gao Village (Gaolao zhuang, 高老庄, 1998) is a microcosm of rural China under economic reform, which drives the villagers to pursue personal profit at the expense of traditional values and the natural environment. Mr Gao, a professor of the study of ancient languages, and his new wife, a historian in ancient culture, take a trip back home to Gao Village. Jia Pingwa unfolds, one by one, the new couple’s unhappy and shocking discoveries in the countryside. Gao’s new wife is alarmed to learn that cultural relics are being neglected and forgotten. The departure of the couple completes the cyclical structure of the narrative, pessimistically leaving the village to the tide of history. Jia Pingwa’s novel Qin Opera (Qinqiang, 秦腔, 2005), a winner of the Global Chinese Language Novel Prize in 2006 and the Mao Dun Literary Prize in 2008, laments the diminishing of folk culture in the decline of Qin Opera, an art form from the Qin dynasty. Told by Zhang Yinsheng (张引生), a mentally disadvantaged man, the narration makes ample use of the technique of defamiliarization. His secret admiration for the actress Bai Xue (白雪, White Snow) is a motivating force in the plot. He innocently witnesses her fall from star singer of Qin Opera to entertainer and mourner at weddings and funerals. Parallel to the fate of Qin Opera is the absurdity of history, shown in the ups and downs of two dominant clans, Bai (白) and Xia (夏), from being landlords to peasants, from peasants to commune members, and then to peasants of the Agricultural Responsibility System. By the 21st century, despite all his diverse themes, Jia Pingwa had not directly dealt with the subject of the Cultural Revolution. Finally, he spent four years writing the novel Gulu Village (Gulu, 古炉, 2011), which fills this gap. Gulu Village is known for pottery production. Jia Pingwa mixes the plot with minute details of the processes of pottery production and the seasonal

duties in plantations. Jia Pingwa does not dichotomize the characters into victims and victimizers, but depicts the impoverished life of the villagers and the complex relationships between generations. The novel shows how normal personal relations are destroyed by class divisions. It is focalized through a marginal character, Dog Pee Moss (Gouniaotai, 狗尿苔), an orphan whose grandfather had gone to Taiwan before Liberation. Under the shadow of a bad class background, he and his grandmother live in constant fear. Fantastic elements are incorporated into the novel, in that Dog Pee Moss has the ability to predict the coming of misfortune with his sensitive sense of smell. Human alienation is contrasted with the wolves gathering to howl on the death of another wolf. The only clear-minded old man in the village, Shanren (The Kind Person, 善人), embodies the combined wisdom of Confucianism and Daoism. But, as his admonitions are ignored and ridiculed, he sets himself on fire, as a last protest. Jia Pingwa’s 2013 novel Daideng (Daideng, 带 灯, literally meaning “to bring light”) is inspired by a female reader who wrote to him regularly about her life as a country cadre in charge of civil issues. Jia Pingwa gives the female protagonist the name Daideng, and the writer Yuan Tianliang (元天亮, “sky bright”) is his own disguise. Like a firefly, small but capable of bringing light to the dark surroundings, Daideng continues her journey. It is through her messages that Jia Pingwang reveals the current realities, critically. Among her many duties, her most significant job is assisting those who have fallen ill—owing to the toxic conditions in the coal mine—in their appeals for compensation. To this, she sums up that “[Chinese] society is like an old spider web, any movement will cause the dust to fall” (p. 132). Like the hero in the novel White Night, Daideng walks in her dreams, signaling her split emotional life. Jia Pingwa will continue to capture the attention of readers with his exuberant tales. His works conjure up landscapes with natural imagery (rivers, floods, rocks, trees, flowers, and herbal plants), inanimate objects (castles, ancient houses, cowsheds, temples, bridges, and ancient sites), folk customs and rituals (weddings, funerals, ghost festivals, religious worship), and, most importantly, the large number of characters (peasants, merchants, officials, folk artists, intellectuals, fortune-tellers, prostitutes, monks, and nuns).


Jia Pingwa is prolific, producing on average one novel every two years, in addition to many other shorter works. This prolific production inevitably leads to repetition, as evidenced in his most recent novels. His rural stories of the 1980s are still fresh and lively. His works on intellectuals in the 1990s, such as Defunct City and White Night, still remain the most successful.

Notes 1. Much of the biographical material is taken from Sun Jianxi (孙见喜), Jia Pingwa zhi mi (贾平凹之迷, The Enigma of Jia Pingwa). Chengdu: Sichuan wenyi chubanshe, 1991. 2. This view was mentioned in Li Xing (李星) and Sun Jianxi (孙见喜), Jia Pingwa pingzhuan (贾平凹评传, Critical Biography of Jia Pingwa). Zhengzhou: Zhengzhou daxue chubanshe, 2005, p. 44. 3. Published in Jia Pingwa, Jia Pingwa xiaoshuo xinzuo ji (贾平凹小说新作集, New works by Jia Pingwa). Beijing: Zhongguo qingnian chubanshe, 1981, pp. 1–14. 4. Ibid., pp. 244–253.

Translations into English “Two Sisters,” Chinese Literature, April (1979): 64–74. “The Song of the Forest,” Chinese Literature, November (1980): 100–106. “Qiqiao’er” (trans. Zhen Shen), Chinese Literature, July (1983): 5–25. “Shasha and the Pigeons” (trans. Zhihui Hu), Chinese Literature, July (1983): 26–39. “How Much Can a Man Bear,” in Zhu Hong (trans. & comp.), The Chinese Western: Short Fiction from Today’s China. New York: Ballantine Books, 1988, pp. 1–52. “Family Chronicle of a Wooden Bowl Maker,” in Zhu Hong (trans. & comp.), ibid., pp. 100–117. “Floodtime” (trans. Margaret H. Decker), in Helen F. Siu (comp. and ed.), Furrows, Peasants, Intellectuals, and the State: Stories and Histories from Modern China. Stanford, CA: Stanford Univeristy Press, 1990, pp. 238–261. “Artemisia” (trans. Fanqin Yu), Chinese Literature, Summer (1987): 3–26. “Touch Paper” (trans. David Pattinson), in Bian Ying (ed.), The Time Is Not Yet Ripe: Contemporary China’s Best Writers and Their Stories. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1991, pp. 112–148. The Heavenly Hound. Beijing: Chinese Literature Press, 1991. Includes “Touch Paper” and “The People of Chicken’s Nest Hollow.” Turbulence: A Novel (trans. Howard Goldblatt). Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1991.

“Life is Changing: Even in Hilly Shangzhou” (trans. Peter Li), in Helmut Martin and Jeffrey Kinkley (eds.), Modern Chinese Writers: Self-Portrayals. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1992, pp. 99–105. “Moon Traces” (trans. Eileen Cheng-yiu Chou), Chinese Literature, Summer (1993): 138–141. “The Regrets of a Bride Carrier” (trans. Josephine A. Matthews), Chinese Literature, Winter (1994): 3–75. Heavenly Rain. Beijing: Chinese Literature Press, 1996. “The Setting Sun over the Defunct Capital” (trans. Zhiliang Li), Chinese Literature, March–April (2000): 56–63. Old Xi’an: Evening Glow of an Imperial City. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, Jiangsu Fine Arts Publishing House, 2001.

JIANG RONG (姜戎, B. 1946) Playing with Wolves Jiang Rong (姜戎), pseudonym of Lü Jiaming (吕 嘉 明 ), became known internationally largely because of his first, and so far only, novel Wolf Totem (Lang Tuteng, 狼图腾, 2004; film, 2014) which deals strikingly with ecological issues and Chinese national characteristics through a cub from a wolf den. Wolf Totem topped the bestsellers list after its publication by the Yangtze Literature and Art Press (Changjiang wenyi chubanshe, 长江文艺出版社 ) in Wuhan (武汉 ), Hunan Province. The novel soon caught the attention of many foreign publishers. Penguin bought the copyright of the novel for US$100, 000, an unprecedented amount for any Chinese work sold to foreign countries. The English version of the novel was translated by Howard Goldblatt, well-known translator and sinologist of modern Chinese literature. By 2008, the author had signed contracts with publishers from 25 countries. The novel’s quality was given international recognition in November 2007, when it won the inaugural Man Asian Literary Prize, which was designed to bring new Asian writers to the attention of the world literary community. Jiang Rong was born in 1946 in the northern part of Jiangsu Province. He attended elementary school in Nanjing. When he was 11 years old, his family moved to Beijing, where his father was transferred. He attended junior high school in the Number 13 Middle School and senior high at the middle school attached to the Central Arts Institute, and he graduated in 1966, just as the


Cultural Revolution broke out. He participated in the Red Guard Movement. When he became disillusioned with the Cultural Revolution, he went to Inner Mongolia in 1967, before the onset of the Rustication Movement, which started officially after Mao Zedong issued the directive on December 22, 1968. Jiang Rong spent 11 years in Inner Mongolia before returning to Beijing in 1978. While in the countryside, he studied political theories on his own and wrote a long treatise entitled “Nation and Reform.” In 1979, he was accepted into the graduate school of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, majoring in Marxism and Leninism, under the guidance of well-known scholars Su Shaozhi (苏绍智, b. 1923) and Yu Guangyuan (于 光远, 1915–2013). He became involved in the Beijing Spring pro-democracy movement in 1979. In 1983, he was assigned to the Chinese Workers Movement Institute (now Chinese Labor Relations Institute), where he taught a new course on labor unions. In 1988, he was promoted to the rank of associate professor and was director in charge of research on labor union history. He published a book entitled History of Lenin Workers Union (Liening gongyun xueshuo shi, 列宁工运学说史), promoting the founding of non-government associations.1 Although Jiang Rong is a new name on the Chinese literary scene, his real name, Lü Jiaming, was already known. His arrest and imprisonment for being active in the Tian’anmen Incident in 1989 were reported in Hong Kong magazines such as Open Magazine (Kaifang, 开放) and Ming Bao Monthly (Ming Bao yuekan, 明报月刊). He was jailed in the notorious Qincheng Prison (秦城 监狱), a penitentiary for political dissidents and many prominent party figures, particularly during the Cultural Revolution. He was released early, after two years, under certain conditions, such as not being able to travel abroad. Jiang Rong was fascinated by Jack London’s Call of the Wild, Tolstoy’s War and Peace, and Sholokhov’s And Quiet Flows the Don. He started learning painting in elementary school and was particularly fond of painting scenes of nature. Therefore, he took going into the countryside as a way of escaping from political chaos and a chance to learn about nature. The 11 years of rustication provided him with the unique experience of living in the grassland among the Mongolian people. Whereas most former sent-down youths wrote about the hardship they endured in Inner

Mongolia, Jiang Rong viewed the experience from entirely different perspectives. He focused on the cultural heritage of the Mongolian people and their interrelations with nature through the prism of the wolf totem. For 30 years, Jiang Rong had the intention of writing the novel, and he took six years to finish it. Wolf Totem is an engaging novel. From an artistic perspective, it is focused thematically, meticulous in details about nature, and persuasive in rhetoric. Although the novel is set during the tumultuous years of the Cultural Revolution, his main focus is the wolves on the grassland. Jiang Rong uses Chen Zhen (陈阵) as his fictionalized self. Chen Zhen’s activities revolve around his fascination with the wolves, his catching a cub from a wolf den, his raising the cub in a yurt, and, finally, his painful killing of the wolf. Jiang Rong avoids bringing in the stories of other sent-down youths, which would have blurred the focus of the novel. The sent-down youths appear mainly as background characters whose interactions with Chen Zhen are limited to those related to the cub he brought back from a wolf den. On the other hand, Chen Zhen’s relations with the Mongolian people are very close, especially with his mentor Bilige (毕力格). Bilige not only is Chen Zhen’s mentor in understanding wolves, but also serves as an embodiment of Mongolian heritage and culture. In him, one detects the spirit of the wolf totem: courageous, alert, intelligent, and determined. It is through Bilige that Chen Zhen comes to know about the wolves and their influence on the temperament of the Mongols. It is also through Bilige that Chen Zhen is enlightened about the importance of ecological balance. The mentor–pupil (or rather, father–son) relationship between Bilige and Chen Zhen subverts the conventional dominator–dominated dichotomy between the Han and the Mongols. Jiang Rong has made a unique contribution to Chinese literature by raising the impending issue of ecological conservation through the detailed and passionate depiction of the survival of grassland wolves. Jiang Rong also uses the novel to express his indignant critique of the senseless destruction of the grassland through bureaucratic ignorance and material greed. In this sense, Wolf Totem stands at the forefront of ecological literature in China. For decades after the CCP came to power, Mao waged war against nature in the name of the revolution. Literary works under Mao were required to eulogize overcoming nature


for the purpose of socialist construction. After the mid-1990s, with the emphasis on economic development, many literary works turned to depict economic success stories. In this social context, it is refreshing to see a work of ecologically conscious literature. In traditional Chinese literature, the wolf has a negative image. The wolf is usually depicted as a cunning, violent, and cruel creature. Jiang Rong’s Wolf Totem subverts this conventional image. He portrays the wolves in a positive light, as an essential part of the grassland ecological system. Some of Jiang Rong’s observations about the wolves echo those in Farley Mowat’s Never Cry Wolf and Barry H. Lopez’s Of Wolves and Men. According to Jiang Rong, wolves possess five positive characteristics: courage, team work, love of freedom, independence, and the intelligence to execute complex maneuvers. The Mongolians who lived a nomadic life had close relationships with the wolves. In particular, from antiquity, the Mongolians have copied the wolves’ strategies for killing animals in their military campaigns. Jiang Rong believes that the Han Chinese, having been molded by an agrarian lifestyle since antiquity, have become “sheepish” in temperament. He believes that, in order to survive and succeed in the modern world, the Han Chinese must rejuvenate by learning from the wolves. Some critics point out that Jiang Rong has idealized the wolves, and that the emphasis on the aggressive combat skills of the wolves could lead to fascism. They argue that, after the chaos of the Cultural Revolution, Chinese people should rebuild their humane values, but not wolf-like aggressiveness. The novel has generated a heated discussion among scholars in the fields of literature, history, anthropology, and history. The market success of Wolf Totem has led to many imitations. For example, soon afterwards, novels appeared with titles bearing the image “Lang” (狼, wolf), such as Wolf Teeth (Langya, 狼牙, 2006) by Liu Meng (刘猛) and Green Wolf (Qinglang, 青狼, 2007) by Zhang Yongjun (张永 军). Books on how to be successful in business and administration also appeared using the wolf spirit as their means of attraction, such as The Ups and Downs of the Stock Market: Wolves, Typhoons and Unfinished Chess Games (Gushi chenfu lu: lang, jufeng, canqi, 股市沉浮录: 狼、飓风、残棋, 2007) by Yu Binghong (俞秉弘), and Wolf Nature and Human Life: Business Success Through the Ways of the Wolf (Langxing rensheng: Geren

chenggong de langxing faze, 狼性人生:个人成功的 狼性法则, 2007) by Wang Yu (王宇). To counter Jiang Rong’s ideas, Yang Zhijun (杨 志 军 , b. 1955), a writer from Qingdao, Shandong Province, who spent many years in Tibet and Qinghai Province, published the novel Tibetan Mastiff (Zang’ao, 藏獒, 2006), in which he presents the loyal image of the Tibetan mastiffs that possess different temperaments from the characteristically aggressive wolves. Regardless of their different views, both authors have added new elements to the repertoire of contemporary Chinese literature.

Note 1. Leung, Laifong, “A Dialogue with Jiang Rong, author of Wolf Totem,” World Literature Today, vol.82, no.4, July–August, 2008.

Translation into English Wolf Totem (trans. and foreword by Howard Goldblatt). New York: Penguin, 2008.

JIANG ZILONG (蒋子龙, B. 1941) Forerunner of Reform Literature Jiang Zilong is among those writers who had been a peasant, a worker, and a soldier, the three supposedly most revolutionary people under Mao’s rule. These three experiences, indeed, would later form the sources for his writing, particularly his factory and peasant fiction. If one were to pick a representative Chinese writer dealing with the reform of state-run enterprises after Mao, Jiang Zilong would be the one. He is a pioneer of the new genre, Reform Literature. His works are literature for a cause, which is the dismantling of the inefficient Maoist (or Soviet) model for the betterment of the people. His early heroes are leaders of reform who, with ability, virtue, courage, and a romantic vision, strive to modernize the state-run enterprises. In his later works, he portrays his reform heroes critically, from a historical perspective. According to Jiang Zilong’s biographical essay collection I am Jiang Zilong (Wo shi Jiang Zilong, 我是蒋子龙, 1996),1 he was born into a peasant family in Doudian Village (豆店村), which is 25 li from Cangzhou (沧州), Hebei Province. From an early age, he was full of curiosity and he would


walk for 12 li to see what the railway train was like. His only entertainment was to go to Cangzhou, where he would spend a whole day listening to ghost and fairy tales. He also developed an interest in Peking opera. While in grade four, he was able to substitute for a storyteller to read traditional tales to the villagers. This early training not only deepened his knowledge of classical Chinese novels, but also would later enhance his narrative skills, particularly in plot structure and characterization. Jiang Zilong left his home village to attend middle school in Tianjin (天津). Despite his good marks, he was looked down upon by his fellow classmates for his country accent, clothing, and manners. To make matters worse, because during the Anti-Rightist Campaign (1957) he spoke in favor of a teacher who had been condemned for promoting veteran writer Ding Ling’s (丁玲, 1904–1986) idea of gaining fame for writing one good book, Jiang Zilong was blacklisted as a “student who needs help.” He began writing secretly as a reaction to the humiliation. After graduation from junior middle school, he entered the Tianjin Technical School for Heavy Machinery. He had a keen interest in machines and was determined to be a skilled worker while maintaining an interest in reading. In 1960, Jiang Zilong joined the Navy where, for five years, he worked in the cartography section of the Navy. During his spare time, he played the erhu (二胡, a two-string instrument) and an accordion; he also played table tennis, basketball, and badminton, and he was a good swimmer. He started writing play scripts, which were performed in the Navy. This experience proved to be invaluable to his writing career.

State-Run Factories as Sites for the Reform Narrative Jiang Zilong’s experience shows how politics affects literary creation. He published his first essay in the Guangming Daily in 1958. After publishing his first story, “New Station Chief” (Xin zhanzhang, 新站长), in Gansu Literature & Art (Gansu wenyi, 甘肃文艺, 1961), he also tried his hand at feature stories and essays. In 1965, he was discharged from the Navy and sent back to the factory. At the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, he was briefly involved in a propaganda team while working in Tianjin Heavy Machine Factory. In 1972, he published the short

story “Three Crane Operators” (San ge qizhong gong, 三个起重工) in the newly established journal Tianjin Literature & Art (Tianjin wenyi, 天津文 艺). When the national journal People’s Literature was resurrected (1975), Jiang Zilong was invited to contribute to the new issue. He quickly came up with the story “A Day in the Life of a Bureau Chief of Machineries and Electricity” (Jidian zuzhang de yitian, 机 电 组 长 的 一 天 , Renmin wenxue, 1, 1976), which portrays a typically devoted bureau chief, Huo Dadao (霍大道, literally Huo Big-Way), who devotes himself to work despite declining health. His heroic image culminates at the end when he wades through a rain storm to reach the factory. In the highly complex politicized milieu in early 1976, the story was condemned as “poisonous weed” for de-emphasizing class struggle and for praising Deng Xiaoping, who was then under attack. Under pressure, the editorial office of People’s Literature, trying to protect Jiang Zilong, drafted a self-criticism for him and published it along with his other story, “The Biography of Iron Spade” (Tiexin zhuan, 铁锨传), in order to amend his “mistakes.” Despite this, Jiang Zilong was criticized in front of an audience of 7,000 people in a huge theatre in Tianjin. The death of Mao on September 9, 1976, saved Jiang Zilong from further criticism. The irony is that, while the accusations of “A Day in the Life of a Bureau Chief of Machineries and Electricity” were being lifted, his “The Biography of Iron Spade” was denounced. In summer 1979, Jiang Zilong was again invited by the People’s Literature to write a story. Having worked in a factory for many years, he was aware of the problems of the state-run enterprises. At the time when China was beginning to launch the state policy of the Four Modernizations, Jiang Zilong felt the urge to express his views on modernizing China’s factory management. Using the cadres he knew as his prototypes,2 he completed the novella “Manager Qiao Assumes Office” (Qiao changzhang shangrenji, 乔厂长上任 记, Renmin wenxue, 7, 1979) in a few days. To his surprise, it created a commotion throughout the nation, which shows that Chinese people recovering from the devastation of the Cultural Revolution were eager for change. Through Manager Qiao’s pragmatic and efficient attributes, Jiang Zilong creates the romantic image of a reform hero who dares to shoulder the duty of bringing China’s gigantic, yet inefficient, state-run industry out of stagnation,


even bankruptcy. Characteristically, Manager Qiao received his training in the Soviet Union in the late 1950s; he led a heavy machine and electricity factory and suffered during the Cultural Revolution. Now, the problems facing Manager Qiao are typical of the planned economy, for instance, theft, inefficiency, wastefulness, and apathy. He also faces opposition from selfish, conservative officials. Manager Qiao starts his reform by assessing the standards of workers and cadres, reassigning the employees according to their abilities, and setting up service teams for those without work. This angers many. The story ends, not with Manager Qiao’s victory, but with the continued support of his superior Huo Dadao (who appeared in Jiang Zilong’s 1976 novella “A Day in the Life of a Bureau Chief of Machineries and Electricity”), who embodies the direction of the party. An element of love is added to the otherwise dry content with the woman engineer Tong Zhen (童贞), who becomes Manager Qiao’s wife. The novella offended those dogmatists who were hostile to reform and those who believed they were the targets of the author. As many as 14 pages of article titles attacking the author and the work appeared in Tianjin Daily. Jiang Zilong was under investigation. However, the storm soon died down with the onset of the Fourth National Congress of Writers and Artists in late October and early November 1979, which signaled a turn toward cultural relaxation. “Manager Qiao Assumes Office” was welcomed by general readers and factory chiefs who supported reform. Jiang Zilong received up to a thousand letters from his readers. Some factories even demanded their cadres read the work. Manager Qiao became a household name. With this work, Jiang Zilong became a pioneer in Reform Literature (gaige wenxue, 改革文学), a term (though Jiang Zilong does not like the term that much) given to literary works that aim to promote changes in many aspects of Chinese society, especially the state-run industrial enterprises. Jiang Zilong quickly published “A Sequel to Manager Qiao” (Qiao changzhang houzhuan, 乔厂长后传, Renmin wenxue, 2, 1980), which places the reform hero Manager Qiao in a series of conflicts with the negative forces represented by dogmatic, corrupt, and inefficient cadres. For instance, the cadre in charge of purchasing mineral sand would buy the more expensive category because he was receiving kickbacks from the seller.

The sorry situation is made worse by the selfseeking vice-head of the factory, who often checks into the hospital to avoid working. Manager Qiao, aided by the calm and able Shi Gan (石敢) and his capable and gentle engineer wife Tong Zhen, is determined to fight to the end. As a conscientious writer, Jiang Zilong leaves the ending open, to suggest the difficulty of the task without losing hope. In the post-Mao era, in response to the Four Modernizations policy, Jiang Zilong was eager to express ideas for reforming factory management through writing, while paying attention to human feelings. In the afterword to his first story collection, Dairy of a Factory Secretary (1981), he said: When I wrote these stories, I paid attention to the economic structure and management system of our nation, but I was more concerned with the spiritual condition of people in this era of great turbulences and changes. I strove to use the front line of industry as background, and placed the characters on the stage of general social life, and depicted their spiritual life, economic life without ignoring political life.3 When asked why he focused on factory cadres, but not ordinary workers, he replied: Although I am familiar with the ordinary workers, I could not bear to write about them. I am conscious of my writing about factory cadres. Our problems rest on the cadres, don’t blame the workers. I feel many problems come from the cadres, therefore, to expose the roots of weakness of the cadres is more important than exposing those of the workers.4 In quick succession, Jiang Zilong published a number of stories dealing with the problems of the state-run factories; they are collected in his second collection, Diary of a Factory Secretary (Yige gongchang mishu de riji, 一个工厂秘书的日记 , 1982). In the story “Foundation” (Jichu, 基础), the workers are more interested in bonuses than actually doing proper work. The hero, Lu Yongcun (路永存, literally road forever there), is a devoted director. The foundations for the forging shop were so poorly constructed that they crack like a piece of bean curd and obviously cannot support a machine of 500 tons. The image of the shaky


foundations symbolizes the precarious state of China’s heavy industry. The author borrows a comment from an old worker from the Republican period: that the root cause of the failure of the factory is that, for a long time, the factory leadership relied on political movement to motivate the workers, but not on human nature.5 The novella “The Pioneers” (Kaituo zhe, 开拓 者 )6 portrays the open-minded reform hero Provincial Secretary Che Pengkuan (车蓬宽), who faces both the opposition of the conservative officials and, at the same time, new ideas from the young. The novella “All Colors of the Rainbow” (Hong cheng huang lü qing lan zi, 红橙黄绿青蓝 紫)7 is a departure from Jiang Zilong’s other factory stories in its focus on the energetic, rebellious young workers, who are potential reformers. The protagonist, Liu Sijia (刘思佳), breaks away from the shackles of the party-directed work style and routine life by selling fried cakes in front of the factory (which shocks state factory workers at a time when the notion of “individual entrepreneur” was new) and wearing bell-bottom jeans from Hong Kong.

Rural Reform: The peasant reform hero and his downfall As a writer who spent his childhood in rural China, it was natural that Jiang Zilong was also concerned about rural reform. Jiang Zilong did not only write about how the rural hero gets rich, but also how he will transform after getting rich. His novella The Sad Song of Yan and Zhao (Yan Zhao beige, 燕赵悲歌, 1985) is set during the later stages of the Maoist period in Dazhao Village (Dazhao zhuang, 大赵庄), a commune of nearly 4,000 people in Northern China Plain, the location of the ancient states of Yan and Zhao. Jiang Zilong creates a rural reform hero, Wu Gengxin (武庚新), the middle-aged party branch secretary of a brigade who, despite little education, but with exceptional energy, determination, and foresight, is able to lead the villagers out of poverty. In order to break the “iron rice bowl” mentality, Wu disbands the production brigade and regroups the people into 52 teams, responsible for various jobs, and sets up 13 factories. He mobilizes the peasants according to the economic rule of each paid according to the amount of work done. In five years, the Dazhao Village is transformed, not only in the standard of living, but also in the peasants’ confidence in themselves. Even a former sent-

down youth who has left wants to return to the village. The United Dazhao Village Agriculture, Industry, and Commerce are formed to replace the People’s Commune System. Jiang Zilong takes this work beyond an uncritical portrait of a reform hero. The scene is a hospital room for high-ranking officials. Wu Gengxin is ill and now shares the room with Xie De (谢德, Xie the Morality), a respectable, highranking official—a surrogate for the party. The commotion caused by Wu Gengxin’s arrogance and extravagance arouses the attention of Xie De. Wu Gengxin’s equating money to modernization also irritates Xie De. The narrative ends with a critical and sad note from the omniscient narrator: “He [Wu Gengxin] has become over confident because he has too much money; he pays no attention to his manners; and he offends many people . . . [original]” (p. 144). Indeed, Wu Gengxin has changed from a hard-working official to a newly wealthy upstart who rules his village like a local emperor. In 2008, Jiang Zilong’s thick novel Peasant Empire (Nongmin diguo, 农民帝国) traces the changes in a village from the 1950s to the early 21st century, from a poverty-stricken commune to a model of economic success, while at the same time lamenting the decline in morality. It can be read as an expansion of The Sad Song of Yan and Zhao (1985). In Peasant Empire, Jiang Zilong broadens the reform-journey-to-prosperity theme to question what comes after getting rich. In the two-part novel, Part I depicts, in great detail, the misery of peasant life under erratic and extremist agricultural policies from the 1950s to the late 1970s. The hero, Guo Chengxian (郭承先), like Wu Gengxin in the previous novella, is an enterprising individual who leads his poor villagers to prosperity. He becomes so concerned with controlling everything that he becomes mentally unstable. At the end of the novel, he becomes insane when he is arrested for corruption. In this vein, the novel can be read as a warning about the one-sided emphasis on prosperity and modernization, while ignoring the cultivation of moral values. Jiang Zilong occasionally digressed onto other themes. In 1986, he published the novel Snake God (Sheshen, 蛇神), which focuses on the destruction of human nature by the Cultural Revolution. With his knowledge of Peking opera, Jiang Zilong portrays, in vivid details, the performances and backstage life of an opera troupe. The protagonist


takes a job as an assistant in a Peking opera troupe in order to get near the actress he loves. Her death by persecution during the Cultural Revolution devastates him. He is exiled to a remote place, where, by chance, he develops a special herbal medicine for curing snake wounds, hence, his nickname “Snake God.” Later, to make up for what he has lost, he lives a life of debauchery. He has gone to ruin as the result of his own suffering. Jiang Zilong has constructed a rounded character out of the victim. Jiang Zilong is an excellent storyteller of realism. With the success of the story “Manager Qiao Assumes Office,” Jiang Zilong was in the first group of Chinese writers to visit the United States in 1981. Since then, he has visited many countries. He wrote a large number of essays about the impressions he gained from his travels. He is open-minded and is perceptive about foreign culture. At the age of 70, Jiang Zilong seems to still have a sense of urgency about tackling social problems. Having served as chair of the local Writers’ Association in Tianjin and as a vicechair of the National Chinese Writers’ Association, he now has taken a break from these duties and continues to write his stories and essays.

Notes 1. Jiang Zilong, Wo shi Jiang Zilong (我是蒋子龙, I am Jiang Zilong). Beijing: Tuanjie chubanshe, 1996. 2. Jiang Zilong, “Guanyu ‘Qiao changzhang shangren ji’ de tongxun” (关于“乔厂长上任记”的通讯, A Letter about “Manager Qiao Assumes Office”), in Jiang Zilong xuanji (蒋子龙选集, Selected Works of Jiang Zilong), Vol. 3. Tianjin: Baihua wenyi chubanshe, 1983, pp. 313–316. 3. Ibid., pp. 278–279. 4. Jiang Zilong, “Shidai zhaohuan wenxue” (时代召唤 文学, The Times Call for Literature), ibid., p. 406. 5. Jiang Zilong, “Foundation” (Jichu, 基础 ), Jiang

Zilong duanpian xiaoshuo ji (蒋子龙短篇小说集, Short Story Collection of Jiang Zilong). Beijing: Zhongguo qingnian chubanshe, 1980, p. 154. 6. Published in Jiang Zilong, Kaituo zhe (开拓者, The Pioneer). Beijing: Zhongguo qingnian chubanshe, 1981, pp. 1–114. 7. Published in Jiang Zilong xuanji 2 (蒋子龙选集2, Selected Works of Jiang Zilong), Vol. 2. Tianjin: Baihua wenyi chubanshe, 1983, pp. 237–333.

Translations into English “Manager Qiao Assumes Office,” Chinese Literature, 2 (1980): 25–65; also in Prize-winning Stories from China, 1978–1979. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1981, pp. 218–261; Yee Lee (ed.), The New Realism: Writings from China after the Cultural Revolution. New York: Hippocrene Books, 1983, pp. 56–85. “More about Manager Qiao,” in Prize-Winning Stories from China, 1978–1979. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1981, pp. 262–301. “Pages from a Factory Secretary’s Diary,” Chinese Literature, December (1980): 32–53. “Qiao Returns to His Plant,” Eastern Horizon (Hong Kong), 19, 2, 2 (1980): 40–50. “No. 7 Typhoon,” Chinese Literature, 3 (1981): 81–91. “Foundation,” in Helen Siu and Selda Stern (trans. and eds.), Mao’s Harvest: Voices from China’s New Generation. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983, pp. 128–146. Also, “Foundation” (trans. Denis C. Mair), in Perry Link (ed.), Stubborn Weeds: Popular and Controversial Chinese Literature after the Cultural Revolution. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1983, pp. 142–160. All the Colors of the Rainbow (trans. Mingjie Wang). Beijing: Panda Books, 1983. “The Diary of a Factory Clerk” (trans. Richard Belsky), in W.C. Chau (ed.), Prize-Winning Stories from China, 1980–1981. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1985, pp. 331–359.

K KONG JIESHENG (孔捷生, B. 1952) From Canton to Washington, DC Kong Jiesheng was born and raised in Guangzhou (Canton), a southern city heavily influenced by Hong Kong. This background gave him a more open outlook and liberal attitude than most writers from the inland provinces. His fiction is characterized by a Guangdong flavor, as shown in the setting, characterization, and the fusion of Cantonese dialect. Kong Jiesheng is among the handful of well-established Chinese writers in exile in the West after the Tian’anmen Incident in 1989. Soon after he arrived in San Francisco in December 1989, he was invited to edit the newly founded quarterly The Square (Guangchang, 广场). From 1992 to 1996, he was visiting researcher at the Princeton China Initiative and editor of the magazine Democratic China (Minzhu Zhongguo, 民主中国). In 1995, he began to adopt the pseudonym Yi Daqi (易大旗), writing essays on China on the Internet and in newspapers in Hong Kong. Kong Jiesheng suffered from political discrimination because both his parents were teachers and had overseas connections. When the Rustication Movement was launched in December 1968, he was sent as a Zhiqing to Gaoyao (高要), which is about 100 km from Guangzhou. It was there that Kong Jiesheng was first exposed to the harsh conditions in rural China. Two years later, bored with life in the village, he applied for a transfer to the Production Construction Corps in the Wuzhi Shan (五指山, Five Finger Mountain) in central Hainan Island (now Hainan Province), where he worked on a rubber plantation. He was allowed to return to Guangzhou in 1976. There, he worked

in a lock factory and, during his spare time, he began to write fiction. The following themes stand out in Kong Jiesheng’s writing career.

Breaking Taboos: Overseas identity and family tragedies Kong Jiesheng was among the first writers to become known in the post-Mao literary scene, because of his taboo-breaking works. In 1978 and 1979, he attracted immediate attention with the publication of his two short stories, “Marriage” (Yinyuan, 姻缘, Zuopin, 8, 1978) and “On the Other Side of the Stream” (Zai xiaohe neibian, 在 小河那边, Zuopin, 3, 1979). During the Maoist era, returned overseas Chinese or people with relatives living overseas were deemed suspicious and were persecuted. Kong Jiesheng’s “Marriage,” a winner of a 1978 National Best Short Stories award, was the first work to critique the political discrimination against people with overseas connections. The female protagonist, a Youth League branch secretary of a lock factory, falls in love with a qualitycontrol inspector, who has been labeled a “white expert” (one who pays greater attention to learning technology than politics). Worse still, he is a returned overseas Chinese from Indonesia. Party inference in individuals’ lives is vividly shown in the party branch vice-secretary’s ordering the female protagonist to break up with the “white expert.” As in many stories of Scar Literature, a happy ending is provided at the end with the fall of the Gang of Four. The discussion generated by the story shows how literature at this stage helps in reinstating two kinds of person— returned overseas Chinese and foreign-trained


professionals and intellectuals—in fiction and in reality. “On the Other Side of the Stream” made Kong Jiesheng known overnight. The dramatic story is set in a Production and Construction Corps in Hainan Island during the later stage of the Cultural Revolution. The Zhiqing protagonist, Yan Liang (严凉), after spending a night with Mu Lan (穆兰) in a storm, discovers that she is his lost sister. The sexual implication, though brief, immediately became a sensation for Chinese readers, long suppressed by party puritanism. The solution typically comes after the fall of the Gang of Four. A letter from his deceased mother reveals that Mu Lan was actually an adopted child but was sent away ten years ago owing to Yan Liang’s father’s objection. Though contrived, the story touched the hearts of millions whose families were destroyed by the Cultural Revolution. This story appeared in the March issue of Literary Works (Zuopin, 作 品) with Chen Guokai’s (陈国凯) equally sensational story “What Should I Do?” (Wo yinggai zenme ban? 我应该怎么办?). During the Cultural Revolution, the female protagonist remarries after her husband dies in prison. After the fall of the Gang of Four, she finds out that the husband is still alive. She is thrown into turmoil, hence the title, “What should I do?” The excitement about, and nationwide discussion of, these two stories brought immediate fame to Kong Jiesheng and Chen Guokai, and the magazine’s circulation increased tremendously.

Reflections on Rustication: Search for new identity, ecological awareness By 1982, Zhiqing fiction had gone beyond the stage of outpouring the scars caused by rustication. Kong Jiesheng’s novella “The Southern Shore” (Nanfang de an, 南方的岸, Shiyue, 2, 1982) is a landmark work dealing with the alienation, perplexity, and spiritual search of former Zhiqing after returning to the city. The narrative centers upon returnee Zhiqing Yi Jie (易杰) and Muzhen (慕珍 ), who now open a small restaurant in Guangzhou by the pier along the Pearl River—a significant vantage point for observing the arrivals and departures of ships. Such repetition, apart from echoing the continual restlessness of the characters, is a metaphorical reference to the choice of direction in life. The narrative progresses by alternating their past in the Production and Construction Corps on Hainan Island (there) with

their present feelings of alienation in Guangzhou (here). The protagonist, Yi Jie, attempts to make a new start by symbolically throwing the pages of the unfinished manuscript into the Pearl River. Muzhen’s search is manifested in her repetitive dreams and recollections of her cutting rubber trees, a skill that had brought her confidence. The rhythm of the narration speeds up as their thinking converges in the same direction: to return to Hainan Island. Their action aroused a controversy: why return to the countryside after they have resumed their life in the city? The point Kong Jiesheng wants to make is not a simple return to Hainan Island. The image of the shore resonates with the Buddhist expression “return, there is the shore” (huitou shi an, 回头是岸). This “shore” is no longer the same place, but a choice based on their own decision, an existential self-determination. Kong Jiesheng’s gripping novella “An Ordinary Woman Worker” (Putong nügong, 普通女工 , Xiaoshuojie, 3, 1982), winner of the National Best Novellas competition (1981–1982), seamlessly combines the image of an ordinary female factory worker and an ex-Zhiqing into one character, He Chan (何婵). She is ordinary in the sense that she lives a humdrum life, like many former female Zhiqing; she is not ordinary in her determination to keep her pride and dignity as a competent worker and a mother. Abandoned by her boyfriend, she juggles her life between her work and her illegitimate son, while trying to come to terms with her unhappy past and social ostracism. Kong Jiesheng’s critique on rustication can be seen in his highly acclaimed novella “The Big Jungle” (Da linmang, 大林莽, Shiyue, 6, 1984), one of the best works of Zhiqing literature and earliest to be concerned with ecological issues. According to Kong Jiesheng, one reason for writing this novella came from his reaction to Liang Xiaosheng’s short story “A Land of Wonder and Mystery” (Zhe shi yipian shenqi de tudi, 这是 一片神奇的土地, Beifang wenxue, 8, 1982), which praises the Zhiqing’s heroism in cultivating virgin land. “The Big Jungle” is set during the Cultural Revolution in a Production and Construction Corps unit in Hainan Island. It focuses on the nightmarish journey of five Zhiqing (four male and one female), who lose their way in a jungle while being sent to carry out an assignment on a rubber plantation without proper training or equipment.


Kong Jiesheng constructs an exuberant yet eerie atmosphere for the jungle—the colorful and strange vegetation and animals, the unusual smell, sounds, and sights, and the shifting between light and darkness. The five Zhiqing embody differences in personality and class background. A love triangle among the chief characters further accentuates the tension. The recurring remark uttered by the protagonist, “The direction is right, but the path is wrong,” suggests, without proper methods, the futility of reaching the goal, no matter whether it is their way out, socialism, or any other objective. Because they are ordered by the leadership to burn the virgin jungle into a rubber plantation, losing their way is thus a symbolic punishment by nature. Only the female protagonist, who is kind to nature, comes out alive, suggesting the eventual triumph of Mother Earth. In the early 1980s, whereas many writers tended to portray Zhiqing as victims, Kong Jiesheng was among the earliest to reveal the dark side of the Zhiqing characters. In Kong Jiesheng’s “Sleeping Lion” (Shuishi, 睡狮, Zuopin, 12, 1984), three male Zhiqing accidentally discover a supposedly valuable, old silk painting of a sleeping lion in an old tomb. Years later, they are all back in the city doing different things, but are still haunted by the painting. Their friendship is soon eroded by greed. Yellow Hair, now a businessman, thinks of getting his share of the value, Number Five, a researcher, wants to keep it himself, and the firstperson writer–narrator acts as a mediator. In the end, ironically, they find out that the old silk painting is nothing but a poorly drawn figure for funeral use from the late Qing or early Republican period, and thus it is of little value.

Cultural Nostalgia: Cantonese opera, Weiqi, and more Kong Jiesheng’s deep concern for the loss of local culture in the face of commercialization is demonstrated in his superb short story “Swan Song” (Juexiang, 绝响, completed in November 1982).1 It deals with the gloomy life of a talented but neglected composer of Cantonese music and opera. According to Kong Jiesheng, he was inspired by an old clansman in his grandfather’s village in Nanhai County (南海县), who was well versed in Cantonese opera. Kong Jiesheng has created an unforgettable image of a decadent artist in contemporary Chinese literature. The key events of the composer’s life

center upon his futile attempts to publish and preserve his art—traditional Cantonese music. After his death, his son receives 400 yuan from a publisher, who thanks the artist for donating the lost songs of the famous He Dasha (何大傻). It turned out that, sadly and ironically, the musician had no choice but to use He Dasha’s name in order to keep his artistic creation. The scene of the blind musicians playing the composer’s songs to send his soul off is one of the most moving and sublime episodes in post-Mao fiction. What is heart-rending is the turning of authentic music into kitsch by his descendant. Behind the composer’s tragedy, one sees the diminishing interest in folk music, first because of political suppression, and later because of foreign music and commercialization. The story was made into a film (1985, directed by Zhang Zeming, 张泽民) and won the Best Film Award in Italy in 1986. Kong Jiesheng extended his concern about the destruction of traditional culture and human talents and lives caused by war and political oppression in his powerful novella “The Dao of Black and White” (Heibai zhi dao, 黑白之道, Huacheng, 5, 1989).2 It is set from the 1910s to the 1980s. The key image is weiqi (围棋, Go) chess, an ancient Chinese game of wisdom. Three amateur Cantonese weiqi players make their living in an open market in front of a Zen temple in Guangzhou—Situ Ziheng (司徒子衡) writes letters for the illiterate, Big Mole plays weiqi with customers, and Old Trick tells fortunes. The narrative is fused with lively Cantonese dialect and details of life in southern China, but the central focus is their shared passion for weiqi and how it impacts their lives. During the Sino-Japanese war, Big Mole is ordered to play a game of weiqi with a Japanese officer and, because of this, he is attacked during the Cultural Revolution. Situ Ziheng is able to get a job teaching weiqi after the communists come to power, but later is persecuted for poisoning young people with Daoist ideas. The fortune-teller, Old Trick, is condemned as an enemy of the people and dies as a result of persecution. The symbolic image of the continuously changing chessboard layout, which echoes the myriad changes in human affairs and political events, is repeatedly highlighted and reflected in the fates of the three main characters. Since antiquity, the chess game has been a form of entertainment and self-cultivation. However, when used as a tool of propaganda, it can turn into a weapon against its players.


As if to anticipate the Tian’anmen Incident in 1989, Kong Jiesheng’s “Beijing Marathon” (Beijing malasong, 北京马拉松, Renmin wenxue, 11, 1988) depicts the psychological journey of a runner participating in the Tian’anmen Square Marathon. A carnivalesque atmosphere is created, with marathoners from all over the world and the starting pistol. The entire journey is colored with the nationalism of the bystanders and the firstperson marathoner. This nationalistic feeling is enhanced by the unrolling of images of the historic, landmark buildings such as the Great Hall of the People and the Chinese Historical Museum along the way. Sometimes ahead, sometimes behind, the first-person marathoner is constantly reminded of his self-imposed and expected patriotic mission. A cultural critique of excessive nationalism comes to the forefront when he finally reaches Tian’anmen Square: he is, ironically, only 15 minutes ahead of an old man, a self-contented gentleman who is oblivious of such political aims.

Writing China in Exile: Essays and fiction In 2008, 19 years after he had left China, Kong Jiesheng published his fiction collection The Dragon and the Sword (Longzhou yu jian, 龙舟与 剑), which contains two novellas and three short stories. Contrary to what one would expect, not one of the stories takes place in the new continent. For the time being, he seems to have little intention of becoming a participant in the now growing genre of Chinese new immigrant literature. Superbly told in a tight rhythm and supple language, the short story “The Dragon Boat and the Sword” (Longzhou yu jian, 龙舟与剑, 1995)3 consists of two parts, both enshrouded in mystery. In Part I, Chen Ge (陈戈) and Old Fourth Uncle (四公) are perched on top of the ancestral temple during a big flood, creating anxiety about survival. As the water is rising, in moonlight, the dragon boat (which has been stored away for future use) mysteriously floats by and takes them to safety. In Part II, after the flood, Chen Ge works as an apprentice under Uncle Kun, a village blacksmith of uncertain family origin. Chen Ge’s curiosity about the blacksmith creates suspense. As the blacksmith’s unusual behavior is gradually revealed—wearing white as opposed to the local custom of wearing black, and using the white snake’s blood to finalize the process of making a sword—his image is elevated to that of a master in the ancient art of sword forging. The sword, a

symbol of family tradition, historic artistry, and mystical power, is made from a round piece of iron taken from a sunken ship from a distant past (history), and completed with the blood of the white snake (mystical guardian angel) and the pure water from the village well (ancestral origin). The blacksmith’s disappearance resonates with the lofty ideal of retreat once one’s mission is accomplished. Kong Jiesheng’s engaging novella “Purple Ink Slab” (Ziyunyan, 紫云砚, 1996)4 questions the use of violence to gain political power. It is set during World War II. However, the focus is not on the Sino-Japanese battles, but on the encounter between Yanjun (妍 君 ), a cultured woman working for underground communists, and Zhesheng (蔗生), a Nationalist soldier. Both have been wounded by the Japanese and are now being kept secretly in an ancestral temple by an old village gentleman, Taigong (太 公 ). The two Chinese political parties are thus symbolically protected by the common people. The tension of the narration is maintained by their mutual suspicion and the uncertainty about their future. Suspicion and mistrust between Yanjun and Zhesheng soon lessen, though love does not develop. The old gentleman’s questions as to whether both parties will help each other to fight the common enemy, and whether both parties will fight each other after the war, show the real concerns of the common people. However, neither of them can give an answer. Kong Jiesheng makes his point in the last episode. When the old gentleman finds out the cruelty inflicted by both parties, and particularly the murder of the entire family of a patriotic businessman by the underground communists, he drives them out of the temple. In 1988, Kong Jiesheng demonstrated his sharp perception and reflections on cultural and social differences based on his trips to Europe in his collection of essays Impressions of Europe (Xichuang kemeng, 西窗客梦, 1988). In the 1990s, Kong Jiesheng became a regular contributor to several magazines in Hong Kong, among them the most popular magazine, Contention (Zhengming, 争鸣). Beginning in 1995, using the pseudonym Yi Daqi (易大旗), he published critical essays on China on the Internet, and, from 2006 to 2013, he wrote a newspaper column in Apple Daily (Pingguo ribao, 苹果日报 ). These works were collected in Essays by Yi Daqi (Yi Daqi wenji, 易 大旗文集, 2007), Blood Path 1989 (Xuelu 1989,


2009), and The Chinese Nation in a Time of Extreme Immorality (Zhonghua minzu daole zui quede de shihou, 中国民族到了最缺德的时候, 2011). From the late 1970s to 1989, slightly more than ten years, Kong Jiesheng was active on the Chinese literary scene. He was a pioneer in several themes. As an outstanding writer from Guangzhou, he has effectively fused the Cantonese dialect into his rhetoric. Living abroad, Kong Jiesheng has gone beyond the ideological restrictions imposed on writing. I would hope that Kong Jiesheng will devote his energy to writing fiction, which is his real specialty. He lives in Washington, DC, where he is joined by Zheng Yi (郑义), his fellow writer friend, in their still deep concern for the motherland they have left behind.

Notes 1. Published in Putong nügong (普通女工, An Ordinary Woman Worker). Shanghai: Shanghai wenyi chubanshe, 1983, pp. 306–333.

2. Published in Longzhou yu jian (龙舟与剑, Dragon Boat and Sword). Hong Kong: Dafeng chubanshe, 2008, pp. 77–176. 3. Published in Longzhou yu jian, pp. 1–22. 4. Ibid., pp. 23–76.

Translations into English “Marriage” (trans. Geremie Barmé and Bennet Lee, eds.), The Wounded: New Stories of the Cultural Revolution, 77–78. Hong Kong: Joint Publishing, 1979, pp. 25–54; also in Chinese Literature, 5 (1979): 3–24. “On the Other Side of the Stream” (trans. by Charles W. Hayford), in Perry Link (ed.), Roses and Thorns: The Second Blooming of the Hundred Flowers in Chinese Fiction, 1979–1980. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1984, pp. 168–193. “Sleeping Lion” (trans. Susan McFadden), in Howard Goldblatt (ed.), Chairman Mao Would Not Be Amused: Fiction from Today’s China. New York: Grove Press, 1995, pp. 269–295.

L LAO GUI (老鬼, B. 1947) A Rebel Lao Gui, literally “Old Ghost” (老鬼), is the pseudonym of Ma Bo (马波). Unpretentious, rebellious, and individualistic, Lao Gui is a writer with character. His mother was Yang Mo (杨 沫 , 1914–1995), author of the red classic Song of Youth (Qingchun zhi ge, 青春之歌, 1958; English version, 1978; film, 1959). During the Cultural Revolution, he was first a fanatical Red Guard in Beijing and later a persecuted Zhiqing in Inner Mongolia. In spring of 1989, he was an active participant in the pro-democracy movement. After the Tian’anmen Incident in 1989, he went into exile in the United States and became a writer-inresidence at Brown University.1 He returned to Beijing in 1995, during his mother’s terminal illness. Unlike many Chinese writers who began their careers writing short fiction, Lao Guo began with the novel form and has mainly focused on writing autobiographical novels. Lao Gui’s father, Ma Jianmin (马建民), was a high-ranking officer, who, in the 1950s, worked in the news division of the Secretary of State of China and later was chancellor of a university. The family lived in an old-style Beijing compound (siheyuan, 四合院) with five courtyards and 20 rooms. Lao Gui had an unhappy childhood. After giving birth to him, his parents, who were devoted to the communist cause, left him in the care of a widow of a military doctor in a village in Henan Province and did not come back for him until he was four years old. Then they put him in a boarding school. The lack of family love had a deep impact on him. Lao Gui’s love–hate relationship with his parents, particularly his mother, became a recurrent theme in his writing.

Lao Gui attended the Number Four Middle School, which was mainly for children from politically favorable class backgrounds. When the Rustication Movement was launched in December 1968, Lao Gui volunteered, with a letter written in his own blood, to go to Inner Mongolia. The local leadership, represented by discharged soldiers in the Production and Construction Corps, treated the Zhiqing very poorly. Physical abuse and arbitrary confinement were common. During a party rectification campaign, Lao Gui voiced his opinion. For this, he was branded “a counterrevolutionary” on the pretext of his fondness for wrestling and fighting. He was imprisoned, tortured, and publically humiliated in struggle sessions. What hurt him most was the betrayal of his friends. He was sent to a remote mountainous area to cut rocks in solitary confinement for many months, until he almost lost the ability to speak. For several years, Lao Gui pleaded, with letters written in his own blood, to the local leadership, and to Mao, but to no avail. His mother appealed to Premier Zhou Enlai. In 1975, Lao Gui’s case was finally reclassified as “a contradiction among the people,” not “between enemy and people.” He returned to Beijing in 1976 and began writing about what he had gone through. His parents objected to his writing about it and even cut contact with him. He was sent to work in a coal mine in Shanxi Province, but he soon escaped and returned to Beijing to continue work on the manuscript. In 1977, he took the newly resumed university entrance examination and was accepted into the Journalism Department at Beijing University. After graduation, Lao Gui worked for the Law Daily (Fazhi ribao, 法制日报). Those who read his manuscript, including Li Ping (礼平, author of the controversial novella “When the Evening Glow Disappears”) and Zheng Yi (author of “Maple”),


were deeply moved by it. Hand-written copies began to circulate in 1979. However, the manuscript was rejected by six publishers. In 1987, Yue Jianyi (岳 建 一 ), a former Zhiqing in Inner Mongolia and editor at the Workers’ Press, took the risk to publish it. Bloodred Sunset (Xuese huanghun, 血色黄昏) immediately became a big hit: it sold 400,000 copies of its first edition and was reprinted many times.2 Bloodred Sunset was the first autobiographical novel to depict, with stark realism, the pervasive cruelty, absurdity, and misery of rusticated life in Inner Mongolia. Crude but powerful, the long narrative (451,000 words) presents in frank detail the physical hardship and psychological turmoil of the exiled protagonist Lin Hu (林鹄, Lao Gui’s disguise). The author portrays an image of a rebellious youth unprecedented in contemporary Chinese literature. No other Zhiqing writer has such courage in dissecting himself: his fondness of wrestling for vanity, his unquenchable thirst for friendship, his deep infatuation with a female Zhiqing, and, more audaciously, his uncontrollable desire for masturbation. He displays contradictory behavior. He longs for romantic love, and yet he is afraid to fall into what was so-called petty-bourgeous sentiment; he is saddened when someone kills his dog, and yet he violently beats up the helpless “rich” Mongolians to show his revolutionary fervor; and he wallows in self-pity for being in the wilderness, and yet, at the same time, amuses himself by sadistically mutilating rats. The Production and Construction Corps becomes a prison without walls for him and his cohorts. They resort to all sorts of means to escape, including the betrayal of friends and, for some women, the loss of virginity. Lao Gui completed his second autobiographical novel, Blood and Iron (Xue yu Tie, 血与铁, 1998), in exile in the United States. In a similarly unadorned style, the novel goes further back to the narrator’s early childhood, from kindergarten to elementary school and to middle school, revealing frank details of the familial, social, and political milieu that came to shape him and his generation. It is a fierce and frank Bildungsroman of those brought up by Maoist indoctrination. His behavior is contradictory and sometimes extreme. To demonstrate his revolutionary spirit, he wears old clothes; he refuses to quench his thirst after walking for 70 miles; he betrays a friend by handing in his diary; and he yearns for war so that

he can go into combat. On the other hand, out of cultural curiosity, he reads books, including Soviet novels and Chinese red classics. He worships figures such as Lenin, Gadfly (the hero of an Italian novel with the same title), the young Mao Zedong, and Chinese communist heroes such as Liu Hulan (刘胡兰), Dong Cunrui (董存瑞), and Ouyang Hai (欧阳海). These revolutionary images have taken hold in the narrator’s mind by the time he reaches adolescence, and all he (and his generation) needs is the call of Mao to rebel. Lao Gui’s description of his Red Guard involvement is vivid and direct; to cite just one example: he raids his parents’ home, ties up his two sisters, smashes the furniture, and tears up the bank books. In another instance, he personally participates in beating up Hu Yaobang (胡耀邦, 1915–1989). My Mother Yang Mo (Muqin Yang Mo, 母亲 杨沫, 2005), Lao Gui’s third autobiographical novel, is again a frank revelation of his love–hate relationship with his mother and a moving account of her life as a wife, mother, and writer under Maoist rule. Lao Gui’s candid portrayal of Yang Mo from the point of view of a son is rare in contemporary Chinese literature. He reveals details of how Yang Mo wrote the popular classic Song of Youth, which was later made into a film. He writes about her first marriage with Zhang Zhongxing (张中行, 1909–2006), a well-known scholar of Chinese classical literature and philosophy, and their split over ideological differences. He writes about her patriotic involvement in the underground communists with her younger sister, actress Bai Yang (白杨, 1920–1996). He recalls that, during the Cultural Revolution, his mother risks her own safety to help friends. Moreover, he writes about her dedication to writing, particularly how her writing is undermined by political considerations (such as the addition of peasant experience to the heroine Liu Daojing, 林道静), and how she is subjected to political attacks over the “pettybourgeois” sentiment of the heroine. He does not hide her eagerness to win favor from the party, her anxiousness to avoid political trouble, and her forced betrayal of friends. This novel, hence, becomes a first-hand source for the study of Yang Mo and her writings, and also an inside record of the intricate personal relationships in the literary field under Mao. To Lao Gui, the most hurtful thing is that both his parents put work and the party ahead of their family. This work is not only about Lao Gui and her mother, but also about the


devastation of Chinese families by excessive politicization. In 2009, Lao Gui published the memoir Youth in Fire: An Investigative Chronicle of 69 Martyrs (Liehuozhong de qingchun: 69 wei bingtuan lieshi xunfang jishi, 烈火中的青春:69位兵团烈士寻访纪 实). This tragedy had appeared briefly in Bloodred Sunset. Sixty-nine sent-down youths were killed while trying to put out a forest fire. Lao Gui did not accept the party’s romanticized version of the tragedy and went to investigate. Based on interviews and related materials, Lao Gui exposed the truth behind the tragedy, such as bad leadership, dogmatism, absence of safety training, and lack of proper equipment. Though not artistically refined, Lao Gui’s unreserved manner of presenting himself makes him stand apart from many other Chinese writers. Because, so far, all he has written is derived from personal experience, his work carries a special appeal. His fictional world of rustication does not contain romanticized rusticated life, but only hardships and struggles for survival. His portrayal of the experience of growing up in Maoist China is startling and revealing. Lao Gui kept a low profile during his exile in the United States. His wife and his son were permitted to join him two years after he landed in the United States (1991). His wife worked to support the family, while he devoted himself to writing and took occasional part-time jobs. In 1995, the English translation of Bloodred Sunset was published. As his mother, Yang Mo, was old and weak, she wanted him to return to China, but, as a dissident, Lao Gui was unable to unless he was willing to “confess” his “mistakes” to the Chinese consulate. Lao Gui refused to compromise. In October 1995, Yang Mo fell seriously ill. Lao Gui was suddenly given permission to return. Because his wife was not willing to go back to China, they divorced. He returned to China in November 1995 and has remained in Beijing since then.

Notes 1. For an interview with Lao Gui, see Laifong Leung, Morning Sun: Interviews with Chinese Writers of the Lost Generation. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1994, pp. 80–87. 2. Wu Hongfei (吴虹飞) and Huang Liurong (黄柳蓉), “Lao Gui, Xuese huanghun yu muqin Yang Mo” (老鬼,血色黄昏与母亲杨沫, Lao Gui, Bloodred Sunset and My Mother Yang Mo), in Nanfang renwu (南方 人物), 7 (2011): 75–77.

Translation into English Bloodred Sunset (trans. Howard Goldblatt), Penguin, 1995.

LI HANGYU (李杭育, B. 1957) Searching Roots in Folk Culture A representative writer of Root-Searching Literature, Li Hangyu was born in the scenic historical city of Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, though his ancestral home was Rushan County (乳山县), Shandong Province. In 1955, his father, a middle-rank cadre, was transferred from Shandong Province to work in the Jinggangshan Medical Rehabilitation Center in Hangzhou. Li Hangyu’s happy childhood ended abruptly when the Cultural Revolution broke out. His father was persecuted, and Li Hangyu, then a grade-two student, was forced to attend struggle sessions and to publically denounce his father. His neighbors, whom he called uncles and aunties, suddenly turned against his family. These experiences deeply traumatized him. When Mao launched the Rustication Movement in 1968, his elder brother, Li Qingxi (李庆西, who later became a literary critic), was sent to the uncultivated area of Heilongjiang Province, and his elder sister was sent to Xiaoshan County (萧山县 ), which is near Hangzhou. In 1973, because of his father’s political problems, Li Hangyu was not allowed to attend senior middle school. As he had no school to attend, he went to join his elder brother and spent a year in Heilongjiang. Owing to changes in the rustication policy, he was able to transfer to Xiaoshan County so that his sister could return home. Located at the mouth of Qiantang River (钱塘 江), Xiaoshan County was formed by sand sediment from upstream. As a sent-down youth, Li Hangyu worked on many physically demanding tasks, such as transforming sandy land into paddy fields, building and mending dikes yearly to fend off the floods, and, during slack seasons, pulling boats upstream. No matter how hard he worked, the food was still inadequate. He had to eat rats, cats, and snakes to make up for lack of proper nutrition. Because he had demonstrated talent in painting and writing, he was assigned to teach school. When his mother retired in 1976, Li Hangyu was allowed to return to Hangzhou to inherit her job, which was fixing vehicles in the


work unit. In 1977, he took the newly restored university entrance examination and entered Hangzhou University (later Zhejiang University), majoring in Chinese literature. Actually, his original plan was to study painting, but, owing to the stiff competition to enter the Zhejiang Arts Academy, he was advised by his family to study literature.1 Li Hangyu read feverishly to make up for the time lost during the Cultural Revolution. During the late 1970s and early 1980s, many previously banned books were allowed to be republished, and new books were introduced from overseas. By reading often a dozen novels in two weeks, he broadened his vision, as he mentioned in an interview: “I have read translated works by Hemingway and Steinbeck, as well as other works by British, Russian and French writers” (96–97).2 In 1978, he published his first story, “A Pitiful Fortune” (Kelian de yunqi, 可怜的运气, Xihu, 1, 1979), which is a critique of the anti-intellectualism of the Cultural Revolution. A young man accidentally discovers that the paper wrapping the melon seeds he bought from a peddler contains a page from Pushkin’s poetry. He uses all his money to buy more pages, until he almost has the whole book.

The “Gechuan River Series” and RootSearching Li Hangyu’s most important contribution to contemporary Chinese literature is his “Gechuan River Series” (Gechuan Jiang xilie, 葛川江系列). After graduation in 1982, he was assigned to teach in Fuyang (富阳), Zhejiang Province. Three months later, he was transferred to be an editor at a local broadcasting station. With his office facing the scenic but temperamental Fuchun River (富春江), he was captivated by the surrounding natural beauty. The Fuchun River and its downstream Qiantang River (钱塘江), which runs by his hometown Hangzhou and his place of rustication, Xiaoshan, would later become the location of his “Gechuan River Series.” These areas belonged to the ancient States of Wu (吴) and Yue (越). In his fiction, Li Hangyu includes local customs and folk elements from these areas. He portrays the lives and fates of many unforgettable characters from the lower strata of society, including flood refugees, fishermen, old-style house painters, sand collectors, boat people, dairy workers, bird catchers, fortune-tellers, geomancers, and village

entrepreneurs, all of whom, in their own energetic but sometimes stubborn ways, embody the vigor of the river communities. Thus, even before the emergence of Root-Searching Literature in 1985, Li Hangyu had already explored the theme of cultural roots in his fiction. Regarding rootsearching, he says: I never search for the “life force” [shengmingli, 生命力] in the orthodox. I seek the “life force” in folk songs and other forms of expression from the common people. Once this “life force” is confined or governed by patterns, it dies. 3 The period from 1982 to 1985 was the most important in Li Hangyu’s writing career. Whereas many writers of his generation concentrated on the rustication experience, Li Hangyu focused on local people and folk culture, which established him as a pioneer of Root-Searching Literature. In October 1982, he completed the short story “A Family on Gechuan River” (Gechuan Jiang shang renjia, 葛川江上人家, Shiyue, 2, 1983), which is replete with images of the untamed river and people with primitive energy. The first sentence, “Gechuan River is sick, its waves are overflowing,” opens the narrative with a tense and violent atmosphere. The reader is immediately confronted with the scream that Fourth Aunt’s (四婶) boat is in danger. Dahei (大黑), a robust young man, jumps up from his bed and dashes to rescue Fourth Aunt and her daughter Qiuzi (秋子). The author uses flashbacks to reveal Fourth Aunt’s sad fate as a widow with five daughters, and Dahei’s secret love for Qiuzi. Ironically and sadly, what he does not know is that, the day before, Fourth Aunt has arranged for Qiuzi to meet a prospective husband in a city, and Qiuzi seems ready to accept the proposal. Whether Dahei can win her heart is left unsaid. What matters now is that they are alive after the fierce battle with the river, even though both boats are wrecked. Instead of giving the story a contrived happy ending, the author leaves it ambiguous. The ending adds Dionysian vitality to these characters, with Dahei sharing a bottle of liquor with the Fourth Aunt and Qiuzi. Li Hangyu’s “In a Little Corner of the World” (Renjian yiyu, 人间一隅, Shanghai wenxue, 3, 1984) is among his best stories in terms of its skillful fusion of the absurd, the fantastic, and the real, through a big flood. The allegorical narrative


is set in 1934 in Tongxing City (同兴城) by the Gechuan River. After it has been raining for seven days and seven nights—a number with mythical connotations—millions of crabs crawl into the city from all directions, filling the streets and entering government offices and people’s homes, a scene resonating with the sudden appearance of the rhinoceros in Eugène Ionesco’s absurd play (1959). Although the crabs do not affect the identity of the people like the rhinoceros, people react frantically by killing them. Compounded with the crab invasion is the sudden arrival of numerous flood victims on boats from northern Jiangsu Province (Subei, 苏北). As often happens during natural disasters, folk beliefs and religious rituals appear: the shamans spread rumors. The Buddha statue in the temple is moved to the bridge entrance, and amulets are put up on front doors to ward off the crab demons. Though the migrants are not crabs, the xenophobic locals do not distinguish between them. Violence breaks out against the outsiders, causing even more chaos. The government interferes and punishes the perpetrators. The omniscient narrator brings the tense atmosphere to a climax by zeroing in on one migrant surnamed Zhong (锺), whose wife is in labor in a boat. In the denouement, Zhong makes a decision that, regardless of what has happened, he will make Tongxing City his new home. The story ends with the lines: “The boat carried his woman, children and the crabs which had quietly crawled in. In the pitchdark night, he paddled toward the fuzzy shadows of the distant city wall.”

Images of “the Last One” In his essay “My Views on Fiction” (Xiaoshuo zibai, 小说自白, Shanghai wenxue, 5, 1985), Li Hangyu says that he pays greater attention to characterization than to structure. His best-known character portrayals are the fresh images of the “last one”: the last angler, the last wall painter, and the last swimmer, all from stories of the “Gechuan Jiang Series.” Completed in October 1982, “The Last Angler” (Zuihou yige yulaoer, 最 后一个渔佬儿 , Dangdai, 2, 1983) laments the decline of an old technique and lifestyle in the process of modernization, a theme with universal significance. Fukui (福奎) is an old angler along the Gechuan River, whose methods of fishing face extinction with the introduction of mechanical methods of production and the worsening pollution in the river. The number of anglers has been

drastically reduced from more than one hundred to one: Fukui. The others have gone on to become farmers, peddlers, and factory workers. The metaphoric association of Fukui’s wooden shed with the shape of a coffin foreshadows the end of his profession. Yet, Fukui takes pride in his skill, which he has practiced since the age of 14. Even in the face of poverty, he resists giving up. More importantly, he is contented with his carefree style of living—working and drinking at his pleasure—even though his old lover has left him for a cook in the city. Fukui’s freedom from any social norms is revealed, with black humor, in his feeding the hilsa herring (a rare, delicious fish he caught) to his cat, rather than using it for purposes of personal advancement. The last episode, which confirms Fukui’s personal choice, resonates with melancholy, beauty, and sublimity. Fukui is lying alone in his boat at night, letting his imagination run wild. He reasons that, as he is the only angler on the Gechuan River, he owns all the fish in the river. He even fancies that to die in the river is like sleeping in the bosom of a romantic woman, and he shouldn’t complain. Contended, he feeds the worms one by one to the gathering small fishes, while the dazzling city lights glitter on the water in the distance. Li Hangyu’s “The Old Customs of Brick Stove Beach” (Shazao yifeng, 沙灶遗风, Beijing wenxue, 5, 1983), a winner in the National Best Short Stories competition (1983), is an elegy of a dying folk art in the process of modernization. It deals with the predicament of Yaoxin (耀鑫), an old master specializing in painting pictures of auspicious animals, plants, and folk-tale figures on blackened walls of old-style houses in a district named Brick Stove Beach, at the mouth of Gechuan River. According to local customs, whoever builds a house would invite the painter, as guest of honor, to a big banquet with eight tables, and, after the banquet, the painter would paint in front of all those present while the host chants “big master painter of the house” to the rhythm of trumpets and drums. This special practice is dying out, as people’s tastes change in favor of the so-called “foreign-style” houses. Even his only son and daughter-in-law are building a “foreign-style” house. In Don Quixote spirit, he is determined to fulfill the dream of his life: he starts saving money to build his own house and paint it in his traditional way. Yet, fully aware of the changing trends, he declines to accept his clansman’s son as apprentice and tells him to


learn the skill of making sofas. The funeral song inadvertently sung by his lover echoes the inevitable end of this folk art. In “Swimmers at Coral Reefs Beach” (Shanhujiao de nongchaoer, 珊 瑚 礁 的 弄 潮 儿 , Beijing wenxue, 3, 1984), Li Hangyu vividly portrays the power of the tidal waves of Gechuan River (which are actually the spectacular tidal waves of Qiantang River, 钱塘江, that arrive every year on August 18) and the ritual challenging of the waves by men of will power, strength, and bravery. The ritual of “playing with the tidal waves” requires that the swimmer does not return to the shore until the third wave. An 85-year-old man (implying the last one) challenges the tidal waves of Gechuan River, not for reasons of material gain or social honor, but for purely personal satisfaction. By contrast, the 40-year-old protagonist, who visits his home county after some years of being an official in Xi’an, sadly discovers that he no longer has the physical strength to participate. Hearing of the death of the old man, the author, through the protagonist, questions, “Will there be any body challenging the waves in the future, or will there be only people watching the waves?” All three stories end with a “death” scene: “the last angler” imagining his death in the bosom of Gechuan River, the funeral song sung by the beloved of “the last house painter,” and the death of the old swimmer. Some critics take the view that these images are of people who have fallen behind the times. What strike one profoundly, however, are their truthfulness to themselves, the insistence on their preferred lifestyle, and the devotion to art and tradition. The urgency of rescuing lost tradition has a universal appeal, especially in the era of ecological awakening.

The “First One” and Other Explorations Li Hangyu did not write much at all about the Cultural Revolution, even though he was deeply harmed by it. The story “Exploding the Grave” (Zha fen, 炸坟, Beijing wenxue, 7, 1985) is a political satire set in Tongxng City (同兴城) along the Gechuan River, in the early stage of the Cultural Revolution. A group of Red Guards come to blow open the tombs of the richest capitalist of the area and his wife. Upon hearing this, Asan (阿 三 ), an experienced grave plunderer during the Nationalist period, rushes to the site to give them directions and, hopefully, get a share of

the find. To sustain the narrative, the dynamiting scene is held after several lengthy digressions. Finally, with Asan’s help, the grave explodes open. To everyone’s surprise, the coffins are empty, as if in protest against violent intrusion by political insanity and greed. Perhaps to balance the images of “the last one,” Li Hangyu’s “The Captain” (Chuanzhang, 船长, Zhongshan, 3, 1984) portrays the image of “the first one,” who is versatile enough to profit from new trends. Nicknamed “Captain,” the protagonist is among the first people to buy insurance for their boat. He is curious about foreign things, as shown in his inviting the painter– narrator to a Western meal. But, on the other hand, the author does not hesitate to critique the “Captain’s” obsolete thinking: he still clings to the idea of not marrying a divorced woman. Li Hangyu’s first novel, The Wandering Earth (Liulang de tudi, 流浪的土地, 1987) is the culmination of his Gechuan River Series. Creating new characters, as well as retaining some from his previous stories, the author reveals the human conditions along the Gechuan River. It is a reexamination of the images of “the last one,” “the first one,” as well as those in between. Willow Leaf Beach (Liuyesha, 柳叶沙) is a sedimentary island downstream of the Gechuan River. Sand is the main source of income for the community. Slowly and constantly, the whole island shifts downstream—hence, the image of a “wandering earth.” The symbolic reference to perpetual change is contrasted with the conservatism of the people who adhere, for instance, to the primitive method of digging and transporting sand. Li Hangyu’s ambivalent feelings run throughout the narrative. On the one hand, he goes to great lengths to depict the self-contained life of the community, characterized by folk songs, drinking, festivals, elaborate funeral rituals, legends of licentious fertile woman, and shamanism. On the other hand, he cannot ignore the ongoing modernization process. The conflicts between the old and the new, the local and the foreign, the urban and the rural (including the boat people), and the primitive and the modern, are central themes of Li Hangyu’s fiction. Rationally, he agrees that life will improve with modernization; yet, he treasures the value of folk culture. The image of “the last ones,” hence, contains a complex meaning. They live at the juncture of historical change, but attempt to maintain their individuality and dignity, though at a price. “The first ones” enjoy unprecedented wealth, but


they lack a sense of dignity. Thus, Li Hangyu’s characters are colored by shades of pessimism, as shown in the melancholy and death of “the last ones” and the lack of morality in “the first ones.” Li Hangyu’s stories mostly do not have a happy or even light-hearted ending. Romantic love is never fulfilled, even in his few love stories, such as “A Kite over the Greenfield” (Caopo shang neizhi fengzheng, 草坡上那只风筝, Renmin wenxue, 9, 1985) and “Red-beaked Love Bird” (Hongzui xiangsi niao, 红嘴相思鸟, Wenhui yuekan, 11, 1984). By the mid-1980s, with his Gechuan River Series, Li Hangyu had gained the reputation as a pioneer of Root-Searching Literature. In the 1990s, however, his output in fiction was greatly reduced. With the popularity of the new media, Li Hangyu wrote a number of television scripts and documentary scripts; some of the latter were largescaled productions such as “Zheng He Voyages to the Western Oceans” (Zheng He xia xiyang, 郑和 下西洋). In 2000, he published a collection of short essays on diverse topics entitled Looking Here and There (Dongzhang Xiwang, 东张西望) and, in 2001, a book of photographs with descriptions of his native city entitled Old Hangzhou (Lao Hangzhou, 老杭州). He left his position as chair of the Hangzhou Writers’ Association after being charged with assault in a minor dispute in 2002. In late 2003, he took up a position at Zhejiang Technical University, teaching writing and film appreciation. Well versed in classical music and film, he published several books on these subjects, such as Canons of Music (Changpian jingdian, 唱 片经典), CD Treasures (CD diancang, CD典藏), and Film Classics (Dianying Jingdian, 电影经典). After 2007, in his spare time, he devoted himself to painting, an interest he has harbored since his teenage years. On June 9–16, 2012, he surprised the literary scene with an exhibition of his oil paintings entitled “History of Life and Nature Poetry.”

Notes 1. “A Dialogue with Li Hangyu,” October 6, 2012. Online at: (accessed March 16, 2016). 2. Laifong Leung, Morning Sun: Interviews with Chinese Writers of the Lost Generation. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1994, pp. 88–96. 3. Ibid., p. 96.

Translations into English “The Tide Fishermen at Coral Beach” (trans. John Hendryx). Chinese Literature, Autumn (1993): 95–121. “The Old Customs of Brick Stone Beach” (trans. Wendong Kuang), Chinese Literature, December (1983): 19–40. “The Last Angler” (trans. Yu Fanqin), Chinese Literature, Autumn (1984): 40–51. “In a Little Corner of the World” (trans. Sally Vernon), in Henry Zhao (ed.), The Lost Boat: Avant-Garde Fiction from China. London: Wellsweep, 1993, pp. 59–74.

LI RUI (李銳, B. 1949) Digging the Deep Earth A highly regarded novelist and essayist writer, Li Rui grew up in China’s first state farm on the outskirts of Beijing, where his father was a highranking cadre. This early connection with rural life gave him a special empathy for Chinese peasants that most city youth did not have. Glimpses of his childhood and teenage life can be seen in his autobiographical novellas, “The Red House” (Hong fangzi, 红房子, Dangdai, 2, 1985) and “Breeze from the Canal” (Yunhe feng, 运河风, Dangdai, 2, 1987), which were among the earliest works about growing up in post-Mao literature. Li Rui was typical of the Red Guard generation. He grew up believing he was an heir to the revolution. He joined the Communist Youth League at 15 and was initially enthusiastic about the Cultural Revolution. His revolutionary idealism soon vanished after his father, who had been an underground communist in his native Sichuan Province before 1949, was denounced as a “traitor.” His father’s devotion to the CCP and his persecution became a source of Li Rui’s historical fiction. Li Rui’s more accomplished works deal with peasant life, rustication, family saga, and cultural reflections. The vitality, artistry, and historical insights he displays in these works gained him high acclaim. In the Chinese literary scene, he is known to be a “thinker,” as particularly shown in his essays. In 2004, Li Rui was awarded the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres title by France; in 2007, he was bestowed with an honorary doctoral degree by Hong Kong Open University. His wife, Jiang Yun (蒋韵), and daughter, Di An (迪安) are also accomplished writers.


In January 1969, Li Rui was sent as a Zhiqing to Dijiahe Village (邸家河村) in the area of Lüliang Mountains (吕梁山), in Shanxi Province. A few months later, his mother died in Beijing after being denied medical treatment because of his father’s political problems. In 1971, his father passed away in exile at a cadre school in Jiangxi Province. In the countryside, Li Rui was denied any opportunity to join the army or to be recommended to university—the only two ways of escaping rural life. He went through a period of depression. He decided to begin writing, which he hoped might bring about a change in his situation.1

From Propaganda to Social Critique Li Rui’s first story, “An Incident in Poplar Village” (Yangshuzhuang de fengbo, 杨树庄的风波) was written in 1972 and published in the first issue of Shanxi Literature & Art (Shanxi wenyi, 山西 文艺) in 1974. He was inspired by an incident concerning theft of grain in a commune. However, in writing the story, he had to write according to the party-dictated formula. After the Cultural Revolution, he rewrote the story drastically, changing it from a propagandist piece into a sharp political satire, and renamed it “Electing a Thief” (Xuan zei, 选贼, Shanxi wenxue, 11, 1986). The key point of the satire rests on the changing attitudes (or the negative side of the national character) of the commune members. When they are asked to vote on who they think is the thief, the one who gets the most votes ironically turns out to be the head of the production brigade. He is embarrassed and leaves the scene in anger. The villagers, initially happy about the result, are now fearful of what may happen to them. They have no choice but to go to appease the brigade boss; whether he is the thief or not seems to be secondary. Li Rui’s life began to improve with the publication of his first story. In 1975, he was transferred to a factory in Linfen (临 汾 , also in Shanxi Province), where he worked for two and a half years. He became known locally after he published his second story, “Setting Roots” (Zhagen, 扎根, Fenshui, 5, 1976). Consequently, in 1977, he was transferred to the editorial office of Shanxi Literature in Taiyuan, the capital city of Shanxi Province. While working as an editor, he enrolled as a Chinese major in a correspondence program from Liaoning University and obtained a bachelor’s degree in 1984. In 1988, he became a profes-

sional writer of the Shanxi Branch of the Chinese Writers’ Association. In 1998, he was elected vicechairman of the Shanxi Branch of the Chinese Writers’ Association. In late 2003, he resigned from this post and the Chinese Writers’ Association in protest over its increasingly bureaucratic practices, an action that aroused national attention. Like many writers who began writing under the influence of Maoist literary dogma, Li Rui went through a period of painful adjustment after Mao’s death. In 1979, he wrote “Xiaoxiao” (Xiaoxiao, 小小, Fenshui, 9, 1979), which he considered the first story to express his real feelings, and the first to depart from Maoist dogma. Based on the tragic death of his friend’s son, this simple story depicts a peasant child being refused admission to hospital because the father cannot afford to pay. Having published more than 20 short stories by the early 1980s, Li Rui felt the need to make a complete break from his previous writing. The “culture fever” that swept the cultural spheres in China in the mid-1980s had a great impact on him. He soon began to write what he called “the human process,” which aims to explore real human conditions.

Deep Earth: Tales from Lüliang Mountains Two main locations, the area of Lüliang Mountains, where he spent six years as a sentdown youth, and Zigong (自贡), his ancestral home in Sichuan Province, provide the settings for most of Li Rui’s works. In 1987–1988, he published 18 short stories under the general title “Impressions from the Lüliang Mountains” (Lüliang Shan yinxiang, 吕梁山印象), which immediately brought him wide attention. More unusual for a Chinese writer, one story in the series, “Deep Earth” (Houtu, 厚土), won the first prize in the Twelfth Chinese Times Literary Contest (1988), in Taiwan, and was also a prize winner in China’s National Best Short Stories competition. In fact, his first story collection, Deep Earth (Houtu), was published in 1988 in Taiwan before it came out in China, one year later. The collection Deep Earth, with its concise and powerful language and deep compassion, become the emblem of Li Rui’s fiction. Although many Zhiqing writers depict the peasants with condescension, Li Rui portrays them with deep understanding and sympathy, while, at the same time, maintaining a low-key


critical distance. Nature imagery occupies an important place in Li Rui’s peasant tales. The dry yellow plateau, the distant horizon, the rugged hills, and the unchanging sunset and sunrise are blended with the stagnant peasant life. Rural customs such as funerals and marriages between the souls of the dead, as well as folk songs, are seamlessly fused in the texts. Li Rui’s second short-story collection, Farming Tools (Taiping fengwu, 太平风物, 2006), contains 16 short stories. Each story is named after a farming tool. The innovative aspect of the work is the postmodern collage of picture images, of the tools, short explanations, classical and vernacular language, historical documents, and fictional accounts, all rolled into one. Li Rui’s concern with peasants in the area of the Lüliang Mountains can be seen in his two short novels, Trees without Wind (Wufeng de shu, 无风 的树, 1996) and Cloudless for Ten Thousand Miles (Wanli wuyun, 万里无云, 1998). Poverty, which accounts for most of the tragic happenings in Deep Earth, continues to devour the peasants. In both novels, Li Rui makes a vigorous attempt to refresh the narrative language. He uses the peasants as first-person narrators, letting them voice their own feelings in their own dialect and manner. This creates a polyphonic effect that subverts the narrator’s condescending attitude, a common feature in works by urban writers. The symbolic title of Trees without Wind suggests the stagnancy and lack of hope in rural life. Set between the late 1950s and the Cultural Revolution, the novel is set in the symbolic Dwarf Village, some of whose people are physically deformed owing to a mineral deficiency. Li Rui portrays the deformed male peasant characters who, unable to find wives anywhere, tacitly share between them the pretty widow Nuanyu (暖玉, Warm Jade), who had married into the village only to escape starvation (the Great Famine [1959– 1961]). Liu Rui adds another critical dimension to the novel through two male characters who are from outside the village and who represent the dominant radical ideology of the time—Zhao (赵), the son of a revolutionary martyr, who insists on using extreme measures such as class struggle to handle daily affairs, and Liu (刘), the corrupt party official who comes only to steal the villagers’ meager resources and also to exploit Nuanyu’s body. In this awkward situation, Nuanyu’s body is doubly victimized—first by the party polices and their agents and then by the deformed males.

The novel Cloudless for Ten Thousand Miles uses a similar narrative device, in which the peasant characters speak in their first-person voice. Many Zhiqing writers have written stories about the gap between sent-down youths and rural people. But only Li Rui creates such an absurd character, Zhang Zhongyin (张仲银), a village teacher with an inferiority complex toward his two Zhiqing colleagues, who admits something he did not do—spreading superstition—in order to be the center of attention at a large mass meeting. However, the mass meeting does not take place, and he is put in jail for eight years. Ironically, after his release from prison and return to his teaching job, the villagers have turned superstition into a money-making business. To raise funds to repair the decrepit school, he has no choice but to collaborate with the shamans. Li Rui thus brings home the message that modernization is just as urgent as the need for water in this dry land, “Cloudless for Ten Thousand Miles.” The first part of the novel had appeared under the title “There is a Golden Sun in Beijing” (Beijing youge jin taiyang, 北京有个金太阳, Shouhuo, 2, 1993). Even though rustication is an important part of Li Rui’s life, it was not until 1994 that Li Rui published the short story “Black and White” (Heibai, 黑白, Shanghai wenxue, 3, 1993), which focuses entirely on a rusticated couple named Black and White in the area of the Lüliang Mountains. Through intermittent flashbacks, Li Rui depicts the disillusionment of the hero Black, who began as an idealistic revolutionary, devoted to building the countryside, but ends as a dejected peasant. His dream of transforming the countryside has ironically been reversed—he has become a poor, crude peasant. The arguments between Black and White epitomize the conflict between idealism and pragmatism. The death of the couple in the last section comes as a surprise. There is no direct description of how they kill themselves (though there is a hint that they both take their lives by swallowing insecticide), but one thing is clear: Black and White were in a state of total despair, and their death serves as a last protest against the Rustication Movement.

Family Saga and Historical Fiction Li Rui’s first novel, Old Site (Jiuzhi, 旧址, 1993, also translated as Silver City in English, 1997), a family saga, is set in the Republican period. Unlike the short-story collection Deep Earth, which is


characterized by concise diction and a detached style, Old Site is presented in eloquent language, with an engaging plot and a historical consciousness. The beginning line, “Many years later . . .,” reveals the influence of One Hundred Years of Solitude. The novel deals with the fates of many members of the Li (李) clan, which epitomize the many senseless deaths caused by the communist revolution. It interweaves events such as the fierce competition among the salt merchants in Zigong, the activities of underground communists, mass executions, as well as romantic love and adultery, and betrayal and suicide. The protagonist, Li Naizhi, is a revolutionary idealist (modeled on Li Rui’s father) who helps build the CCP regime, only to be later persecuted to death. The image of Li Zihen (李紫痕), Li Naizhi’s older sister, is striking. In her youth, she makes the horrifying decision to burn her beautiful face to express her determination not to marry, in order to encourage Li Naizhi to continue with his education. Ironically, her sacrifice was in vain, and she dies alone. Tale of Silver City (Yincheng Gushi, 银城故事, 2001) is a rich and tightly structured historical novel set in 1910, one year before the end of the Qing dynasty. The novel consists of four chapters, each titled with a line from the truncated (fourline) verse (jueju) “Song of Liangzhou” (Liangzhou ci, 凉州词) by the Tang poet Wang Zhihuan (王之涣, 688–742). The poem is supposed to be used as a code in the plot to assassinate a government official. Even though the three young revolutionaries have had sophisticated training in Japan, they fail to carry out the plan owing to unforeseen circumstances. Also set in Zigong, Li Rui’s ancestral hometown, and using a salt merchant’s family as a source of characters, this novel is artistically superior to his earlier one. In this novel, temporally set on the eve of the 1911 Revolution led by Dr Sun Yatsen, Li Rui once again deals with the themes of revolution, violence, and the unpredictability of history. Juxtaposed with the failed heroes is the recurring image of the indifferent crowds, echoing Lu Xun’s critique of this negative aspect of the Chinese national character. At the same time, Li Rui makes skillful use of his deep knowledge of the region. For instance, he depicts in great detail the complex wheeling and dealing among the salt merchants, and the buying, selling, and killing of oxen. All of this gives the novel a very concrete setting. The aborted uprising and the resulting tragic deaths deconstruct the

communist ideology of progressive historical inevitability. Li Rui’s recent novel, The Eighth Day of Martin Zhang (Zhang Mading de di ba tian, 张马 丁的第八天, Shouhuo, 4, 2011), is an ambitious attempt to explore the question of religion, morality, and human survival in the historical context of China facing the West during the Boxers Uprising, around 1900. The narrative progresses along two lines. The first line depicts the Italian bishop’s missionary activities in Shanxi Province and the arrival of his successor, who has a Chinese name, Zhang Mading. The second line depicts the popularity of the Mother Temple, which signifies fertility worship. The conflicts between Western religion and folk religion symbolize the confrontation between the West and China. The two plot lines converge in the unlikely relationship between Widow Wang, who is eager to have a son after her husband’s execution, and Zhang Mading, who is in despair after being kicked out of church. The final disappearance of Widow Wang and the “death” of Zhang Mading carry them on a different path. Because Li Rui sets his rural stories in the area of the Lüliang Mountains, some critics associate him with the Potato School (Shanyaodan pai, 山 药蛋派), which began in the mid-1940s and flourished in the 1950s with writers such as Zhao Shuli (赵树理, 1906–1970), Ma Feng (马烽, 1922–2004) and Xi Rong (西戎, 1922–2001), who based their tales in the CCP-controlled region of Shanxi Province. However, their works share an optimism not found in Li Rui’s. Li Rui’s Lüliang Mountains tales have an entirely different orientation; he is more interested in conveying the primitive passions and desires of the peasants in their daily struggles in a harsh environment. Li Rui’s rural stories are fine examples of Root-Searching Literature. The quality Li Rui attained in his tales remains a standard yet to be achieved by many. His stories about rusticated youths, family sagas, and historical novels are thought-provoking and subversive. Li Rui’s thoughtful essays are collected in the “Refusing to Sing Along Series” (Jujue hechang xilie, 拒绝合唱系列, 1996) and Essays by Li Rui (Li Rui sanwen, 李锐散文, 2010). Li Hui has been invited to give lectures in many countries, including Sweden, Japan, Malaysia, and the United States. His works have been translated into many languages, including English, Dutch, Japanese, German, French. and Swedish.


Note 1. Interview with Li Rui in Beijing, November 1993.

Translations into English “Electing a thief” (trans. Jeffery G. Kingkley), in Helen Siu and Zelda Stern (eds.). Furrow: Peasants, Intellectuals, and the State: Stories and Histories from Modern China. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1990, pp. 207–211. “The Brake-Stone” (trans. J.Q. Sun), in Henry Zhao (ed.), Lost Boat: Avant-Garde Fiction from China. London: Wellsweep, 1993, pp. 21–28. “Sham Marriage” (trans. William Schaefer and Fenghua Wang), in Howard Goldblatt (ed.), Chairman Mao Would Not Be Pleased. New York: Grove Press, 1995, pp. 90–98. Silver City (trans. Howard Goldblatt). New York: Henry Holt, 1997. Trees without Wind: A Novel (trans. John Balcom). New York: Columbia University Press, 2012.

LIANG XIAOSHENG (梁晓声, B. 1949) An Idealist from Harbin A representative writer of Zhiqing fiction, Liang Xiaosheng began writing in the 1970s when he was a Zhiqing in the Production and Construction Corps in Heilongjiang Province. He has been able to maintain his popularity for more than three decades, since the early 1980s. He became a household name, with several of his novels made into television series shown on prime time nationally. His large number of critical essays on Chinese society undergoing change have aroused controversial attention. One gets the impression that Liang Xiaosheng presents himself as a moral crusader, using his pen as a sword to “pierce into the evil shield of society,” while, at the same time, not hiding his own foibles. Liang Xiaosheng was born in Harbin, Heilongjiang Province. His father was a construction worker, and his mother was a housewife and temporary worker. Like numerous people in Heilongjiang Province, his father was originally from Rongcheng County (荣 成 县 ), Shandong Province, but migrated to Northeast China during the Republican period in search of a better life. Because his father had to work in different places and could only come home once every three years

or more, his mother shouldered the responsibility of bringing up five children. Liang Xiaosheng’s deep feelings for his parents recur in his works (for instance, “Father” [Fuqin, 父亲, Renmin wenxue, 11, 1984] and “Mother” [Muqin, 母亲, Wenhui yuekan, 1, 1988]). His elder brother attended university in the early 1960s, but was later sent to a mental hospital, partly owing to financial pressure. Liang Xiaosheng’s deeply felt humiliation about poverty has been reflected in his indignant attitude toward elitism and those with power and wealth. At the same time, his writing reflects a deep sympathy toward the poor and the underprivileged, as shown in his portrayals of heroic characters standing up against all forms of injustice. Despite poverty, Liang Xiaosheng was well read. While in elementary school, he began reading comic books (“Little People’s Books” [xiaoren shu, 小人书]), which contain illustrations and simplified plot narrations. Typically, these books were rented out at low cost to young readers who would read them in the bookstore. The wide topics covered by these books played a significant role in popularizing famous literary works. Moreover, Liang Xiaosheng’s mother was fond of telling traditional stories. Under the influence of his elder brother, Liang Xiaosheng read the works of Hugo, Tolstoy, and Soviet writers. Ironically, when he was a Red Guard, he had access to confiscated books, which opened his vision to works of great literature. Liang Xiaosheng was an active student in mobilizing others to go to the countryside and he went to the Great Barren North in June 1968, a few months before the Rustication Movement was officially launched. During his seven years in the Great Barren North, he worked as a farmer, teacher, reporter, and lumber labor. He had published his first essay in the Chinese Juvenile News (Zhongguo shaonian bao, 中国少年报) when he was in middle school. Now, he wrote about his rustication experiences in poems, essays, and short stories for the Military Farm Soldiers News (Bingtuan zhanshi bao, 兵团战士报), which circulated among sent-down youths in Heilongjiang Province. His story “Masters of the Borderland” (Bianjiang de zhuren, 边疆的主人, 1975) follows the party line to praise the devotion of a female youth in the Great Barren North. In 1974, when a teacher from Shanghai came to recruit “worker– peasant–soldier students,” Liang Xiaosheng became one of the two selected to attend Fudan University in Shanghai. After graduation in 1977,


he was assigned to be an editor in the Beijing Film Studio and, in 1988, transferred to Children’s Film Studio, where he remained until he took up a teaching position in the Beijing Language University in the early years of the 21st century.1 Liang Xiaosheng’s writing revolves around two subjects: first, the Zhiqing generation, from their involvement in the Red Guard Movement to rustication in the Great Barren North and after their return to the city; second, critique of moral degeneration and alienation in the fast-changing Chinese society. Though basically a writer of realism, he also makes use of mystery and fantasy. His fiction is characterized by enticing plots and dramatic conflicts. He frequently adopts the author–narrator’s point of view in his fiction and essays, giving credibility to the text.

Fiction on Rustication: Departure and return From the late 1970s to the early 1980s, stories about rusticated youths were permeated with suffering, helplessness, and despair. Liang Xiaosheng’s fiction presents a different perspective. In his ironically titled short story “A Land of Wonder and Mystery” (Zheshi yipian shenqi de tudi, 这是一片神奇的土地 , Beifang wenxue, 8, 1982), which won a National Best Short Stories award, he attempts to give recognition to the idealism and heroism of sent-down youths in their cultivation of the frontier, but not without critiquing the movement’s inhuman aspects. The story begins with a group of sent-down youths being sent to a symbolically named place called Ghost Swamp, for the purpose of cultivating new land. The eerie atmosphere is immediately conjured up with images of bear skeletons, hunting guns, and abandoned tractors. It is further compounded by “ghost fire,” strange cries of birds, horrifying “nine-headed evil dragons,” and the rumor that a group of Japanese soldiers had gone there but never returned. The process of conquering the Ghost Swamp is interwoven with the love triangle between Li Xiaoyan (李晓燕) and her admirers, Wang Zhigang (王志刚) and the first-person protagonist, Liang (梁). The flood that comes after the rapid melting of snow shifts the emphasis from emotional entanglement to collaborative action for survival. As foreshadowed in the beginning, death soon falls upon them, one after another: first-person narrator

Liang’s younger sister drowns when trying to catch an animal for food; the female protagonist falls ill with hemorrhagic fever and dies; and Wang Zhigang is killed after a battle with wolves. The narrative, however, ends on a positive note through the first-person protagonist’s pledge in front of his sister’s grave: “From now on, no matter those of us who have left, or have chosen to stay, we won’t be afraid nor succumb to any difficulty.” Liang Xiaosheng was criticized for being an apologist for the Rustication Movement by promoting of the view that hardship and suffering could make the sent-down youths stronger. Perhaps because of this kind of criticism, Liang Xiaosheng published the sequel story “For the Sake of Harvest” (Weile shouhuo, 为了收获, Qingnian wenxue, 10, 1984), which depicts a deplorable situation in which the wheat harvest is destroyed by the autumn rain, because the company leader does not dare to reap the harvest without his superior’s permission. The situation is made even worse by an epidemic. Liang Xiaosheng’s 1983 prize-winning novella “The Snowstorm Tonight” (Jinye you baofengxue, 今夜有暴风雪, Qingchun, serial edition, 1, 1983) mesmerizes his readers with the powerful depiction of the massive exodus of the sent-down youths in 1979. By 1979, the Rustication Movement had been in place for 11 years, and the restlessness of the exiled sent-down youths had reached breaking point. The avalanche of events is triggered by the announcement that they can return to the city, but only on a certain date. Through flashbacks, the author traces the development of the love triangle among the main characters. The most memorable scene is where the female protagonist, Pei Xiaoyun (裴晓芸) freezes to death because her love rival deliberately “forgets” to relieve her on sentry duty. The collapse of the love triangle coincides with the disintegration of the rusticated community. Even though the narrative ends with some sent-down youths choosing to stay in the countryside, it does not save the failure of the rustication policy itself. It is but a “bright tail” forced upon the grave tragedy of forced exile. The novel Snow City (Xuecheng, 雪城, 1988) focuses on the challenges facing six former sentdown youths after they have returned to Harbin. When the novel appeared as a television series, it was a big hit. In the 1990s, Liang Xiaosheng’s other novel, Tree Rings (Nianlun, 年轮, 1994), was also made into a television series. As suggested by the


symbolic title, the author intends to trace the paths his generation followed and the marks they left in history. In both novels, Liang Xiaosheng portrays a diversity of personalities, from different family backgrounds, from the highly politicized society under Mao to the commercialized and materialistic society under Deng. Taken together, they constitute a panoramic view of the Zhiqing generation. In 2012, Liang Xiaosheng revisited the Zhiqing topic by writing a script for the television series bearing the title “Zhiqing 知青.” It aroused controversy because some speculated that the author was trying to flatter Xi Jinping (习近平), and some questioned Liang Xiaosheng’s portraying those successful Zhiqing while downplaying the suffering majority. One thing that remains unchanged is Liang Xiaosheng’s obsession with his generation and its idealism and heroism.

Red Guard Experience, Memoirs, and Fantasy In 1987, Liang Xiaosheng made use of his university experience as a “worker–peasant–soldier student” to write From Fudan to Beijing Film Studio (Cong Fudan dao Bei Ying, 从复旦到北影, 1987; English translation, Life in Shanghai and Beijing: A Memoir of a Chinese Writer, 1990). As the first memoir by any Chinese writer to be translated into English after the death of Mao, this work is significant in that very few writers were chosen to attend university as a “worker–peasant– soldier student” in the early 1970s. After Mao’s death, the label “worker–peasant–soldier” had such negative connotations that people with this background would be embarrassed to admit it. Besides providing material about Liang Xiaosheng’s life, this memoir records what university education was like in the early 1970s and, thus, has historical value. For instance, foreign students were segregated from local Chinese students, and any contact with them could result in intensive investigation. Liang Xiaosheng’s memoir, Monologue of a Red Guard (Yige hongweibing de zibai, 一个红卫 兵的自白, Haixia, 1, 1987; book form in 1988) was among the first of its kind published in China. It is a Bildungsroman of a warped generation. It is a gripping account of Liang Xiaosheng’s Red Guard experience: how he joined the Red Guards; how he discovered the storage for confiscated books; how he took the train to roam about China during the Great Revolutionary Linkup (da

chuanlian, 大串连); and how he was deceived by other Red Guards on the way. Liang Xiaosheng attempts, with the benefit of hindsight, to explain the roots of the actions, emotions, and thoughts of the Red Guards. For instance, the Red Guards’ cruel treatment of animals was rooted in their lack of a humane education; they would reduce human beings to negative labels such as “ox, ghost, snake, and demons” before maltreating them; and their rebellious behaviors were manifestations of longsuppressed feelings of sexuality and individuality. However, Liang Xiaosheng tries to justify the wrongs of the Red Guards by their original innocence, as he spells out controversially on the first page of the book: I was a Red Guard and I will not confess. In 2001, Liang Xiaosheng revisited the topic of the Red Guards in his imaginative political satire Red Daze (Hongyun, 红晕). The frozen bodies of four Red Guards—two male and two female— are discovered on a high mountain in Sichuan Province, after the snowed has melted. These former Red Guards had been buried by snow 34 years ago, during the Great Revolutionary Linkup in 1967. A team of scientists revive them and take them to a big city, where they will face a society drastically different from what they knew in the 1960s. Liang Xiaosheng uses the technique of defamiliarization to effectively dramatize the shock, dismay, and confusion of these four young people, who still wear the Red Guard uniform, speak a slogan-laden language, and bear the worldview of the Cultural Revolution. That they are looked upon as either lunatics or actors posing for a film is in itself a mockery of, and ironic statement about, the Cultural Revolution and Maoist ideology. The former Red Guards’ dramatic attempt to adapt to the new environment adds a satirical effect to the text. For instance, the stubborn male Red Guard Zhao Weidong (赵卫东, literally Zhao-protect-Mao Zedong) is outraged by what he thinks are condemnable bourgeois surroundings and immediately reacts by quoting from Mao’s Little Red Book (Quotations of Chairman Mao Zedong). The female, Xiao Dongmei (萧冬梅), the most adaptable of the four, is befriended by a fashionable model who, in disbelief, patiently teaches her everything from how to use a shower to how to put on cosmetics and wear a bra. As too much emphasis is on the characters’ outdated behaviors, Liang Xiaosheng has missed the opportunity to reflect critically on themselves and history.


Social Satire: The real and the fantastic Liang Xiaosheng began to expand his subject matter in the 1990s to include such characters as intellectuals, peasants, ordinary workers, and scholars. Using the first-person narrator, Liang Xiaosheng indignantly depicts social problems, such as the impoverished situation of research scholars in “The Death of a Scholar” (Xuezhe zhi si, 学者之死, Shiyue, 1, 1996), the suicide of an old worker of a collapsing state-owned enterprise in “Fitter King” (Qiangong wang, 钳工王, Beijing wenxue, 1, 1997), and the poor old peasant who resists pressure from a corrupt official to vote for an able candidate in “Elected by the People” (Min xuan, 民选, Xiaoshuojia, 5, 2001). Destruction (Minmie, 泯灭, 1994) is a novel about moral degradation. The narrative consists of two parts: the first part depicts the close friendship of two poor boys—the studious Ziqing (子卿) and the author–narrator Liang Xiaosheng, from childhood in Harbin to the Great Barren North. The second part focuses on the moral degradation of Ziqing from the perspective of the self-righteous narrator. In between the two parts, there is a gap of 20 years. When they accidentally meet again, Ziqing has deteriorated from a pure youth to a ruthless merchant who has been imprisoned owing to his illegal dealing in military weapons. He becomes insane after the mongrel dogs he wants to sell turn wild and kill his wife, as a sign of retribution. The narrator Liang Xiaosheng is Ziqing’s double who plays the role of a friend, an observer, and a social commentator. Ziqing does what the narrator (now a well-known writer) cannot do. In this sense, the narrator’s moralizing is somewhat hypocritical. Both have deteriorated; the only difference is in degree. Liang Xiaosheng’s use of the fantastic and the absurd to satirize moral degradation is exemplified in the novella “Tail” (Weiba, 尾巴, Zhongshan, 1, 1996). Again, Liang Xiaosheng self-mockingly employs the author–narrator with the same name as an object of satire. Two aliens cast a spell on a Chinese city. Those who lie will grow a tail, and the more lies they tell, the longer the tail. They will grow tails from different creatures, such as peacocks, crocodiles, rats, tigers, and lions. As most people tell lies habitually, they become accustomed to it, and they even begin to take pride in their tails. Soon, businesses such as tail grooming emerge in the market. People even compete with each other over tail fashion. The aliens are disappointed and they cast another

spell: people who tell lies will grow long, sharp, protruding teeth. The narrator, Liang Xiaosheng, gets wind of this and quickly writes books promoting the culture of long, sharp, protruding teeth. The moral degradation has reached a point of no return. In a mixture of fantasy and realism, Liang Xiaosheng’s apocalyptic novel Floating City (Foucheng, 浮城, 1992) satirizes Chinese society, which is contaminated with excessive material greed, sexual debauchery, and violence. All these converge in one city, which, on a certain night, mysteriously drifts away from the mainland. Where it is drifting to, no one knows. Tension is sustained until the end of the narrative. In a great panic for survival, people rush to purchase life buoys. As if for punishment, the floating city is soon invaded by seagulls, creating a horror like Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. As the city is floating toward Japan, people are divided into three factions according to their opinions: some want to go ashore, some do not, and some want to return to the mainland. Many die fighting each other. Then they realize that Japan does not want them. The city continues to float, and there are signs that it is floating toward the United States. They are overjoyed. As they wake up in the morning, they see the PLA airplanes and ships coming to their rescue. The ironic ending is thoughtful: some safely land on China, but those who refuse to land gradually disappear, with the floating city, in the vast ocean. Liang Xiaosheng views himself as a social commentator and a moral crusader. His collections of essays on various aspects of Chinese society after economic reform have attracted much controversial attention. For instance, in “Broken Thoughts of ‘93: Random Thoughts of a Writer” (‘93 duanxiang: yige zuojia de zagan, ’93断想:一 个作家的杂感), he recalls three incidents in which he personally intervened to stand up for the disadvantaged. In 1997, Liang Xiaosheng published the Analysis of Chinese Social Strata (Zhongguo shehui ge jieceng fenxi, 中国社会各阶层分析). It contains seven chapters, devoted to discussion of the rich class, the comprador class, the middle class, the intellectuals, the ordinary city dwellers, the peasantry, and secret societies. Though more of a subjective observation than an objective analysis based on sound statistics, this book attracted great attention. Liang Xiaosheng’s passion for humanity and his dramatic tales will continue to attract readers.


However, one must point out that his fiction suffers because of the inclusion of excessive personal moral judgments. He loves his generation so much that he endows his characters with idealism and heroism. His lack of critical reflection on the Red Guards is still a point of controversy.

Note 1. For an interview with Liang Xiaosheng, See Laifong Leung, Morning Sun: Interviews with Chinese Writers of the Lost Generation. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1994, pp. 112–120.

Translations into English “A Land of Wonder and Mystery” (trans. Shen Zhen), Chinese Literature, May (1983): 5–34. “The Jet Ruler” (trans. Yang Nan), Chinese Literature, May (1983): 35–50. “Ice Dam” (trans. Christopher Smith), Chinese Literature, Spring (1990): 3–10. Life in Shanghai and Beijing: A Memoir of a Chinese Writer. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1990. The Black Button. Beijing: Panda Books, 1992. Panic and Deaf: Two Modern Satires (trans. Chan Hanming; ed. James O. Belcher). Beijing: Chinese Literature Press, 1992; Honolulu, HI: University of Hawai’i Press, 2001. “For the Sake of the Harvest” (trans. Daniel Bryant and Yixi Zhang), Renditions, 50, Fall (1998): 55–82. A Land of Wonder and Mystery and Other Writings. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 2009.

LIN BAI (林白, B. 1958) A Feminist Wanderer from Guangxi Lin Bai, pseudonym of Lin Baiwei (林白薇), began writing in the early 1980s and rose to national fame in 1994 with her autobiographical novel A War of One’s Own (Yige ren de zhanzheng, 一个人的战争, Huacheng, 2, 1994), which boldly depicts the first-person female narrator’s consciousness of her own body and her disappointing relationships with men. Along with Chen Ran, Lin Bai became a representative writer of “private writing” (siren xiezuo, 私人写作) or “body writing” (shenti xiezuo, 身体写作), a trend that flourished in the mid-1990s. Her exploration of the victimization of the female sex in the maledominated society and market economy estab-

lished her distinctive position in Chinese feminist literature. Her works have appeared in many languages. Lin Bai was born in Beiliu (北流), Guangxi Province. Unlike many sent-down youths who resisted going to the countryside during the Rustication Movement, Lin Bai was happy to leave home, because she did not have a close relationship with her family. Her father died when she was three years old, and her mother, a physician, remarried. This may explain why, in Lin Bai’s fiction, there is little emphasis on father–daughter or mother–daughter relationships. Lin Bai spent two years in the countryside as a sent-down youth, during which she also taught at a brigade school. She entered Wuhan University, majoring in library science in 1978. Upon graduation in 1982, she was assigned to work in the provincial library in Nanning, Guangxi Province. In 1985, she became an editor and screen writer in the literary division of the Guangxi Film Production Factory. In 1990, she moved to Beijing and worked as an editor for Chinese Culture News (Zhongguo wenhua bao, 中 国文化报). Having moved from the marginal south to the capital, Lin Bai could be considered a member of the early “Drifters to the North” (beipiao, 北漂). Currently, she is listed as a professional writer at the Wuhan Literary Institute, which is under the Wuhan Union of Writers and Artists.

Growing Up as a Woman Lin Bai began writing poetry in 1977. Her earliest story was “Folks Living in Mud Houses” (Tu pingfang de renmen, 土平房的人们, Guangxi wenxue, 9, 1983). Lin Bai’s subjective style and female angle of narration was already evident in her early works. In her 1988 novella “Black Skirt” (Heiqun, 黑裙, Shanghai wenxue, 12, 1988), for example, she depicts, from a woman’s perspective, how her maternal grandmother—who stood out in her black skirt, a typical outfit for female students during the May Fourth period—has to hide her glamorous past owing to political oppression (her husband was a condemned landlord). Lin Bai’s fiction is characteristically told by the first-person female narrator, who is herself in many guises. She stresses the use of psychological depiction rather than dialogue and overt actions. Though somewhat fragmentary, the gripping power of her fiction rests on her fluid, sensual language and emotional fluctuations in the female


self. She also employs fresh imagery. For instance, the river in her hometown is seen metaphorically as the entrance to hell, and so is the entrance to the subway in Beijing. Lin Bai’s recurrent mirror image functions as a site for her self-expression, including as a means to reveal the female protagonist’s individuality, narcissism and confidence, multiple identities, and sometimes a fractured self. Though Lin Bai had left her hometown, Beiliu, in the mid-1970s, it remains a main source for her literary creation. Her autobiographical novel Green Moss (Qingtai, 青苔, 1995) contains a vivid depiction of life peculiar to Beiliu, including the colorful decoration of the boats, the goods transported to shore by the boatmen, the fetching of river water by the women, and the invasive subtropical disease that comes with the seasons. She also depicts the local culture, such as rituals and folk songs. In 11 chapters (most of which had appeared as separate short stories elsewhere), Green Moss embodies her subjective experiences, from her elementary-school years to her later nostalgia for her hometown. Lin Bai’s recollection of childhood is imbued with sadness. The short story “Eyes on the wall” (Qiangshang de yanjing, 墙上的眼睛, Qingnian wenxue, 11, 1994) is a fragmented recollection of an unhappy childhood. The first-person narrator recalls the eyes she painted on the wall with the charcoal her father gave her when she was four years old. This memory leads to her memory of her father’s mysterious death. By contrast, her schizophrenic younger brother has lost much of his memory after an unsuccessful suicide attempt, and her remarried mother hides from her the photographs of the deceased husband in order to erase the memory. Her Bildungsroman, often set in Sand Street in Beiliu where she grew up, combines sociopolitical critique with the first-person narrator’s rites of passage to sexual awareness. Memory plays a good part in these tales. In the short story “Noon” (Riwu, 日午, Shanghai wenxue, 6, 1991; which forms Chapter 2 in Green Moss), the adult narrator fondly recalls the beautiful chief dancer Yao Qiong (姚琼) from the Revolutionary Model Play White-haired Girl (Bai maonü, 白毛女) in her hometown during the Cultural Revolution. The discovery of Yao Qiong’s dead body in a lime pond shifts the direction of the plot. The truth is only revealed when the adult narrator recalls that, as a little girl peeping through a hole in the wall one afternoon, she witnessed a shocking scene in

which the dancer posed nude in front of a cadre. This discovery, hence, contains two facts: the identity of the murderer and the narrator’s early exposure to sexuality. The most representative feminist work by Lin Bai, A War of One’s Own, is more skillfully written. It brought Lin Bai national fame and, at the same time, criticism from conservative critics. Placed in the historical development of Chinese women’s literature, this work has a special significance. Since the publication of Ding Ling’s novella “Diaries of Miss Sophie” (Shafei nüshi de riji, 莎菲女士的日记, 1928), women’s writing in China had been stifled by wars and communist dogma. To be revolutionary, women characters were expected to be transformed to become like men. Even in Scar Literature in the 1980s, women writers willingly joined their male counterparts to condemn evil politics and call for the return of humanity; gender issues were left aside. Lin Bai's fiction would drastically change this situation. A War of One’s Own contains four chapters and an epilogue. It begins strikingly with the narrator, Lin Duomi (林多米), saying that she began masturbating when she was in kindergarten. Sensitive and poetic, the depiction of masturbation is by no means pornographic (though it is unavoidable that publishers desire to exploit this aspect for commercial purposes). The novel can be read as a monologue of a woman’s journey from her childhood to adulthood, and as a tale of one woman’s struggle against the oppressive, male-dominated society and system to reach her full potential. Tension is maintained through Lin Duomi’s journey to get education opportunities, to get her writing published, and to leave her backward hometown to go to Beijing. Although she is intelligent and adventurous, she is also vulnerable and paranoid. She is determined to achieve her goals, but she is unable to free herself from the traps of love set by the unfaithful, selfish male. It takes her years to get him out of her system, and, toward the end, she pessimistically declares that, “I won’t want love anymore; I won’t love any man until I die.”

Sisterhood as Refuge Lin Bai’s pessimism about the male sex is shown in her first-person female protagonist’s disappointments with the usually selfish and unworthy lovers. What is ironic is that, despite the male’s


heartlessness and unfaithfulness, her love for him prevents her from breaking off relations. She is trapped in her own romantic dream that he will return to her someday. She assumes that, because she loves him, he must also be still in love with her. The lament of women’s one-sided devotion to men recurs in Lin Bai’s fiction. In her 1989 novella “Cannot Part with One’s Beloved” (Tong xin’ai zhe buneng fenshou, 同心爱者不能分手, Shanghai wenxue, 10, 1989), she sets two failed love relationships along two alternating time frames. The first focuses on the unfulfilled love between a teacher and a lonely, mysterious, beautiful woman. The second focuses on the now 38-year-old firstperson narrator and her disappointment in her selfish lover, who refuses to take any responsibility, even when she becomes pregnant. The novella foreshadows some of Lin Bai’s essential themes: the impossibility of equal love and meaningful communications between men and women (the female protagonist ironically finds comfort in her dog rather than a man), and the different attitudes towards love of men and women. Lin Bai tends to portray the complex relationships between two women, who form a literary double. For instance, in “The Chair in the Winding Corridor” (Huilang zhi yi, 回廊之忆, Zhongshan, 4, 1993), the elegant wife of a rich member of the gentry and her maid have an implied lesbian relationship. After the wife passes away, the maid maintains the residence as if she were still alive. In the metafictional story “Water in a Vase” (Ping zhong zhi shui, 瓶中之水, Zhongshan, 4, 1993), the friendship between Erpa (二帕, fashion designer) and Yiping (意萍, from a rich family) abruptly shatters when Yiping inadvertently reveals her condescending attitudes toward Erpa. Lin Bai’s novella “The Fatal Flight” (Zhiming de feixiang, 致命的飞翔, Huacheng, 1, 1995) deals with two close, yet distant relationships between two females, Bei Nuo (北诺) and Li Wo (李莴). The novella begins with the omniscient narrator’s metafictional expression, “Bei Nuo disappears like a flash in my youth, and she is like a lightning. Later she disappears in my stories and has not shown up again.” Both Bei Nuo and Li Wo are in their 30s, unmarried, fond of masturbation and looking at mirrors (narcissism), and having had several man friends. Li Wo is more rational, whereas Bei Nuo becomes a mistress of an older man and kills him after he tortures her sexually. Set in the 1990s, Lin Bai’s novel Speak, Room (Shuoba, fangjian, 说吧,房间, Huacheng, 3, 1997)

is a bitter tale of two female friends who share intimate sisterhood and similar sad fates. They both have gone through disappointing love affairs, marriages, and abortions. Now they both end up sharing a squalid space in Shenzhen, which ironically is at the forefront city of China’s economic reform. Lin Duomi (林多米, who had appeared in “A War of One’s Own”) loses her job as an editor—a job she got through her husband. She is dismissed because of her divorce. Nan Hong (南 红), her girlfriend, ventures to make a career in Shenzhen, only to lose her health and she ends up living in poverty after many unhappy experiences with men. Nan Hong dies after a botched abortion. Women’s “private writing” can be paradoxical. On the one hand, the female writer’s exploration of her body is important and justifiable. It represents the affirmation of her independent identity. However, while writing about menstruation, masturbation, abortion, and intimate feelings, she is also exposed to the exploitation of the male gaze and ruthless commercialization. Another paradox is that, when a woman writer tries to reclaim her space and dignity, she tends to place the male in a negative light. In the aesthetics of literary writing, this formulaic construct will inevitably leads to the dichotomization of black and white characterization.

Stepping Out of Her Room In the late 1990s, Lin Bai extended her subject matter. Based on her experience as editor in the Guangxi Film Production Factory, in the novel Glass Insects (Boli chong, 玻璃虫, Dajia, 1, 2000), she presents a truthful account of her life and people (with real names) who were active during the 1980s in the literary field and the film industry in Guangxi. Though not a successful work, owing to the repetition of biographical elements, it marks a divergence from her psychologically centered narration. Lin Bai’s chronicle novel, Record of Journey along the Yellow River (Zhen Huang ji, 枕黄记, 2001), is a collection of random records of her journey along the Yellow River. Subjective depiction is reduced to the minimum. It fuses different genres, such as jottings, songs, gazetteer entries, and geographical depiction, creating a postmodernist text about wider subjects. Lin Bai’s drastic change occurred with the publication of Ten Thousand Things Bloom (Wanwu huakai, 万物花开, 2003), in which she


totally abandons her subjective style. In 2001, Lin Bai was visited by her relative Li Muzhen (李木 珍), who came from a village in Hubei Province. Li Muzhen has an elementary school education and she likes to read novels by Jin Yong (金庸, a prominent Hong Kong writer of martial-arts fiction) and Cen Kailun (岑凯伦, a popular Hong Kong romance writer). Lin Bai found her chat very interesting and eye-opening. Amazed by the myriad, rich realities told by Li Muzhen, Lin Bai jotted down the content and constructed the novel. The novel consists of two main parts. Part 1 contains three chapters (pp. 1–143), which form the tale of the teenager Datou (大头, Big Head), a 14-year-old boy who has five tumors in his brain, a condition that sometimes makes him feel like flying. Not going to school, he has the freedom to roam about, meeting various kinds of people from the margins of society. Part 2 has a long appendix and an addendum (pp. 169–279), including Li Muzhen’s random talks from which the tale is derived. In the afterword, Lin Bai says, “My initial intention of writing Ten Thousand Things Bloom was to satisfy my desire to go to a place I have never been to before, and to become someone totally unknown.” She declares that: The strange, mysterious, hysterical, self-pity, self-love, sexy, elegant, and charming women in my earlier fiction have all disappeared. The private murmuring on dim rainy days, the stories from behind the wavering curtains, the scream, moaning, crying, scattered eyes, abruptly shaved hair, have all gone after living more than a decade on paper. They have disappeared in a blink of an eye, like moisture drying immediately in the sun. (p. 283) Lin Bai’s 2004 novel Random Talks of Women (Funü xianliu lu, 妇女闲聊录, completed in 2004, 2008 edition) is based entirely on Li Muzhen’s further revelations. The content is told by Li Muzhen, but the narration is edited by Lin Bai. Lin Bai calls the work “a chronicle novel” (jiluti changpian, 记录体长篇). She sums up her literary journey in the afterword, “The World is so Big” (Shijie ruci liaokuo, 世界如此辽阔): For so many years I have isolated myself from the world, my heart being dim and cold, full of anxiety and restlessness, not trusting anybody. I shut the path to the world.

For some many years, I only loved life on paper, oblivious to things around. To me, writing was everything, the world did not exist. I could not foresee that suddenly one day I would hear the voice of others, bringing to me things of world, full of sound, color and noise. They carry me away, taking me to a wide, bright world, and make me feel anew the mountains, rivers, the sun, the moon, and the vast lakes. What I have written are true voices, they are colloquial, crude, imprecise, repetitive, tedious, lively, colorful, and mixing the sound of human and spirits. They have not been contaminated by the literati. I like them and I am willing to learn the folk language. I want to learn about their lives. The earth is so wide, so is the human heart. My first task is to liberate myself from the paper, and return vigor to my life. (p. 226) Li Muzhen’s oral narration consists of five sections (juan, 卷) and an additional section (ling juan, 另卷). In the five sections, the place names and people’s names are fictional, and, in the additional section, the places names are real, but the people’s names are fictional. The entire text is based on 218 random oral records told by Li Muzhen, who is from a fictional place named Wangzha (王榨). All the real-life situations, from playing mahjong and buying and selling animals to weddings and funerals, loving and beating, greed and generosity, and so forth, are narrated matter-of-factly, without moral judgment. The genuine peasant images presented are full of vigor. Some critics praise this shift as a return to the China’s ancient notion of what fiction should be (records of talk and gossip from streets and alleys) and a revival of traditional narrative.1 But how far this kind of writing can go for Lin Bai remains doubtful. Lin Bai, after all, is a writer who excels in writing about her subjective experience, as shown in her recent novels, To 1975 (Zhi 1975, 2007) and Drifting in Beijing (Bei qu laici, 北去来 辞, 2013). Lin Bai has made a great contribution to Chinese feminist literature through her sensitive and subjective exploration of the female self and females’ fates in the male-dominated society. Her direct portrayals of everyday life in rural China showed her attempt to expand her thematic range.


How she will combine her feminist stance with the new, broad realities remains to be seen.

Note 1. Zhang Xinying (张新颖) and Liu Zhirong (刘志荣), “Dakai women de wenxue lijie he dakai wenxue de shenghuo shiye” (打开我们的文学理解和打开文学的生活 事业, Open Our Literary Understanding and Life Vision), in Funü xianliao lu (妇女闲聊录, Random Talks of Women). Beijing: Xinxing chubanshe, 2008, pp. 229–245.

Translations into English “Excerpt from the Fatal Flight” (trans. by Xiao Cheng). Wasafiri, 55 (2008): 37–42. “The Seat on the Verandah,” in Frank Stewart and Herbert J. Batt (eds.), The Mystified Boat and Other New Stories from China. Special issue of Manoa: A Pacific Journal of International Writing, 15, 2 (Winter 2003). Honolulu, HI: University of Hawai’i Press, pp. 83–110.

LIN JINLAN (林斤谰, 1923–2009) A Wise Man Knowing the Art of Emptiness Lin Jinlan was a master of short fiction. He emerged in the 1950s with a large number of short stories. Readers today are usually puzzled by the question of how he managed to avoid being labeled a Rightist, while many of his writer friends were condemned. Lin Jinlan was born into an intellectual family in Wenzhou (温州), Zhejiang Province. His grandfather was well versed in Chinese classics, and his father was headmaster of an elementary school. At school, Lin Jinlan was assigned the duty of looking after the school library, which gave him an opportunity to read works by foreign writers such as Chekhov and other translated works. In 1937, no sooner had Lin Jinlan completed junior high in Wenzhou Middle School than World War II broke out. He left home to join a street drama troupe. As a sojourn student in Chongqing (重庆), the war capital, he had an opportunity to attend the National Social Education Institute (国立社会教育 学院), where he learned drama, singing, dancing, and film-making from such famous figures such as Jiao Juyin (焦菊隐, 1905–1975), Shi Dongshan (史 东 山 , 1902–1955), Zheng Junli (郑 君 里 ,

1911–1969), and Liang Shiqiu (梁实秋, 1903– 1987).1 He also received special training in a cadre school run by the underground communists. In 1946, after Taiwan was returned to China following Japan’s surrender, Lin Jinlan was sent there as an underground agent. He was jailed by the Nationalists after the 2.28 Incident (1948) and was released a year later, after which he was smuggled back to China. Ironically, despite his loyalty to the CCP, he was under suspicion until his death 50 years later (2009)! It was, thus, not surprising that Lin Jinlan was cautious during the Hundred Flowers Campaign (1956). When he and his writer friends, Cong Weixi (从维熙), Liu Shaotang (刘绍棠), and Deng Youmei (邓友梅) were urged by Yang Jie (杨杰), head of the Beijing Union of Writers and Artists, to “help the party” by speaking up, Lin Jinlan was reluctant and did not respond.2 By 1958, Cong Weixi, Liu Shaotang, and Deng Youmei were all labeled Rightists, but Lin Jinlan escaped. However, Lin Jinlan was not entirely free of trouble. Besides suspicion for having been to Taiwan, he was criticized for being influenced by Shen Congwen (沈从文, a veteran liberal writer from the May Fourth period).3 In 1959, he was sent to a village in Shijing Hill (石景山) on the outskirts of Beijing to live and work among the peasants. Ironically, the rural experience he gained there would become a source for his fiction. For instance, his story “New Life” (Xinsheng, 新生, Renmin wenxue, 12, 1960)4 vividly depicts how a woman in labor in a remote mountainous village is saved by a woman doctor. During the Cultural Revolution, Lin Jinlan was attacked and was assigned to sell tickets in the Chongwenmen Theatre (崇文门戏院) in Beijing. He returned to the literary scene in the late 1970s.

Conceiving Short Fiction Aesthetics In the mid-1950s, Lin Jinlan made a name for himself with his short story “Taiwan Woman” (Taiwan guniang, 台湾姑娘, Renmin wenxue, 1, 1957),5 which was derived from his experience as an underground agent in Taiwan. It deals with the friendship between a teacher from the China Mainland and a young Taiwanese woman, who works in his household in order to save money for her education but later dies in prison after the 2.28 Incident. The story’s unusual setting, vivid dialogue, and characterization attracted attention. Lin Jinlan continued to publish short stories


on diverse topics, such as conflict between the cadres and the peasants during the implementation of the Cooperatives (“Family Letter” [Jiaxin, 家信], Renmin wenxue, 4, 1957)], growing up during the war (“Sisters” [Jiemei, 姐妹], Renmin wenxue, 5–6, 1957), and overcoming a difficult journey to a mountainous area (“Water” [Yipiao shui, 一瓢水], Renmin wenxue, 5–6, 1957). Lin Jinlan’s stories of this period demonstrate an approach to writing short fiction that differs from other writers, particularly those nurtured in Yan’an. While abiding by the dominant discourse, he avoids glamorous scenes, high-sounding slogans, and bigger-than-life heroes. He turns his attention to ordinary characters and the small events that matter to them. Reflecting on the literature of the Maoist period, Lin Jinlan insightfully writes, “One creative method becomes a guiding thought, which in turn permeates the creative field through administrative force to form a model of writing. As this model gradually consolidates, creativity dies” (p. 93).6 He laments the deplorable situation of Chinese writers: While they are being oppressed, they assume the all-knowing role, telling the peasants don’t take this road, don’t take that road; telling the young men and women don’t get married this way or that way; telling the machines to turn this way or that way. They tell people to look at things this away and not that way . . . [original] regarding all this as the function of literature, and content of realism. (p. 93) He rightfully says: Thirty years later, it has been proven that those who claimed to be all-knowing actually know nothing; those who claimed to be able to do anything couldn’t do anything. Some writers sigh that the writer is still alive, but his work is already dead. (p. 93) Lin Jinlan also confesses: In the past, I have always thought that I have reflected life truly. In the seventeen years [1949–1966] I went to the countryside every year and lived there as an ordinary member . . . [however] what was reflected in my work

was only the reality of the policies, not of life itself . . . Therefore my new understanding in writing is to insist on realism. (p. 27)7 Accordingly, he postulates that, “true feelings and tangible emotions” (zhenqing shigan, 真情实 感) are the essentials of a writer (p. 33).8 Lin Jinlan is among the few writers (e.g. Gao Xingjian, Lu Wenfu) who developed their own aesthetics of fiction writing. In fact, to honor Lin Jinlan’s contribution to the art of short fiction, in 2012, the Lin Jinlan Short Fiction Award was established by the journal People’s Literature and Wenzhou, his native city. Lin Jinlan pays particular attention to the concept of “emptiness” (kongbai, 空白) in writing. The idea was instilled in him during elementary school by his maternal grandfather, who frequently applied this concept to judge the paintings by Lin Jinlan’s three aunts.9 Lin Jinlan’s application of “emptiness” takes on different forms, creating different effects. Besides the use of the lapse of time, he reduces extensive descriptions of character traits, spatial setting, and psychological characteristics. The result is a spare style that demands reader’s imagination. Even the titles of his stories are short, mostly containing one or two Chinese characters: for instance, “‘Jump’ ” (“Tiao,” 跳), “Trembling” (Duosuo, 哆嗦), and “Five Cents” (Wufen, 五 分 ). Moreover, Lin Jinlan’s narratives often contain indeterminacy and ambiguity. Thus, reading Lin Jinlan’s fiction requires close attention, and every word counts.

Nostalgia and Contemporary Legends: The “Stool Bridge Series” After 1978, Lin Jinlan’s short fiction blossomed. The short story “The Winched Well” (Lulu jing, 辘轳井, Renmin wenxue, 9, 1981) stands out in the 1980s with its delicate handling of time lapses and fantasy. He uses the changing condition of the winched well to symbolize the vicissitudes of politics and their impact on people’s lives. The narrative consists of two contrasting parts. In Part I, one day in the early years of the People’s Republic, an outsider, Master You (尤师傅), who is part of a technical unit sent to the village, stumbles into a garden where he meets an old couple growing their own vegetables and making their own delicious bean curd with water from their winched well. They drink wine, play chess, and


sing folk songs. The atmosphere resonates with Tao Yuanming’s “Peach Blossom Spring” of the Jin Dynasty. Their secluded haven comes to an abrupt end with the forceful implementation of the Cooperative. The couple disappear without a trace, and the abandoned well dries up. Liu Jinlan does not explain directly what happened, but the political critique is clear from the images of decay. Separated by a lapse of time, Part II opens with the new era after Mao. Under the new reform policies, the garden comes back to life, and water appears in the well. The old couple’s abandoned house becomes a gathering place for good food, tea, wine, and songs. Master You thus plays the role, not only of a witness to the changes, but also of a participant in the cultural transformation. In 1983, Lin Jinlan gave a lecture to young writers in his hometown, Wenzhou, which he had left 40 years before. After spending two weeks there, visiting and talking to the people, he returned to Beijing energized. Soon, his hometown, “like a source of energy buried for thousands of years,” inspired him to write the “Stool Bridge Series” (Aideng Qiao fengqing xilie, 矮凳桥风情系 列). Under reform, Wenzhou became an economically developed city in China. It provides Lin Jinlan with a setting to fuse modern material desires with local customs, folklore, and local tales. He does not create comprehensive stories, but presents a mixture of fragmentary scenes and impressions, emotions and actions, and Wenzhou dialect. In this series, Lin Jinlan deals with people from diverse backgrounds, such as boatmen, peddlers, soldiers, and local officials. The best-known story is “Stream Eel” (Ximan, 溪鳗),10 which combines the real and the fantastic in a manner reminiscent of Pu Songling’s (蒲松龄, 1640–1715) Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio (Liaozhai zhiyi, 聊斋 志异). Ximan is a kind of eel and the nickname of a woman. The name thus conjures up an image of the ghostly transformation of an animal into a beautiful woman. The woman, Ximan, is no water demon, but a flexible person who is good at running a restaurant. She makes fish balls and cakes and cooks many dishes using stream eels, caught in the nearby river. Her restaurant by the Stool Bridge is a landmark that gives the town its name. The second plot line grows out of the first, seamlessly, through a rumor. Thirty years ago, Ximan’s lover, a former magistrate, encountered a stream eel in the shape of a woman at night, when he was drunk. Soon afterwards, he was

persecuted and mysteriously lost the ability to speak. The third plot line deals with a marginalized scholar–calligrapher, Yuan Xiangzhou (袁相 舟), who, at Ximan’s invitation, comes to write a signboard for the restaurant, which reads: Eel, but not eel; fish but not fish; Come but not come; gone but not gone; Today’s spring dream not in spring; Hope that morning clouds stay for good. Mr Yuan’s background is left untold, except for his scholar–artist manner. Under the influence of liquor, he writes these playful Daoist lines, resonating, among other things, with free wandering, leisure, and self-content, a style characteristic of Lin Jinlan’s writing.

Memories: Trauma and the Cultural Revolution Lin Jinlan’s two short-story and essay collections, Ten Years Ten Hysteria (Shinian shiyi, 十年十癔), the Sequel to Ten Hysteria (Xu shiyi, 续十癔) and Nine Dreams (Jiumeng, 九梦 ), are about the impacts of the Cultural Revolution on the minds of ordinary people.11 Many writers have dealt with the tragic consequences for the lives of ordinary people, but they tend to portray the victims and victimizers as mentally normal human beings. Lin Jinlan turns his attention to post-traumatic syndromes and warped personalities. He portrays how normal people become abnormal in abnormal situations, and how abnormal people act in normal situations. Lin Jinlan probes into how excessive political oppression can warp the human mind. In “Trembling” (Duosuo, 哆嗦),12 a bureau director who had fought courageously in many battles before the CCP’s victory in 1949 is reduced to a trembling subordinate whenever he faces any superior. The obsession with the horrors of the past is grimly depicted in “Spring Festival” (Chunjie, 春节).13 After the Cultural Revolution, the unnamed characters, having gone through the horror of public humiliation, interrogation, and mock execution, remain so deeply obsessed with their suffering that they cannot stop talking about it, even during the supposed happy spring festival. The most heart-rending short story is “Five Cents” (Wufen, 五分).14 Though not stated, it is clear that it is based on the execution of Lin Zhao (林昭, 1932–1968). Now honored as China’s Saint


Joan of Arc, Lin Zhao was first condemned as a Rightist in 1957 and imprisoned during the Cultural Revolution for her dissident views. In prison, she used her blood to write poems and appeals, amounting to hundreds of thousands of words (most still kept as state secrets). She was executed in Shanghai on April 29, 1968. The unnamed narrator is actually the younger sister of Lin Zhao in disguise. After the execution, a letter came from the public security office, asking for five cents for the cost of the bullet. After that, “[I, the narrator] cannot face the word ‘five.’ Whenever I see or hear ‘five,’ my blood vessels tighten, my stomach twists, my heart leaps, my head aches, my eyes dizzy . . . [original] all these are physiological reactions, not psychological” (p. 319). Lin Jinlan’s large number of essays and short stories are significant historical works in which he courageously and honestly records the people, places, and circumstances he knew about or personally saw from the 1930s to the 21st century. The most striking essay is “Red August: 823” (Hong bayue, ba er san, 红八月, 八二三).15 Lin Jinlan was Lao She’s (老舍, 1899–1966) close assistant in the People’s Drama and Art Institute (Renmin xiju yishu xueyuan, 人民戏剧艺术学院) in the 1950s. Lin Jinlan’s eye-witness account is an important document of what actually happened leading up to Lao She’s suicide, after being mistreated by Red Guards, on August 23, 1966. Lin Jinlan’s stories have been regarded by some readers as “oblique,” “incomprehensible,” or having “a strange flavor” (guaiwei, 怪味). This is a misunderstanding. Lin Jinlan has made a great contribution to the art of short fiction through his aesthetics, which stress the use of emptiness, indeterminacy, and ambiguity. His steadfast subversion of party dictates on literary creation is admirable. The power generated by many of his stories, such as those concerning post-traumatic stress disorder and historical reexaminations, deserve special praise.

Notes 1. See reminiscences of these figures in Lin Jinlan wenji (林斤澜文集, Collected Works of Lin Jinlan), vol. 4. Beijing: Beijing Shifan Daxue chubanshe, 2000, pp. 254–257, 262–264, 265–266, 329–330. 2. See Lin Jinlan’s recollection of what actually happened. Cheng Shaoguo (程绍国), “Tian ke lian jian: Lin Jinlan he ‘youpai’ cajian erguo” (天可怜见 : 林斤澜和“右派”擦肩而过, Pity from Heaven: Lin Jinlan Narrowly Escaped Being Labeled “Rightist”), Dangdai, 5, 2006, pp. 223–227.

3. Lin Jinlan, “Shen xiansheng de jimo” (沈先生的寂寞, The Loneliness of Mr Shen), published in Lin Jinlan wenji, vol. 4, pp. 246–253. 4. Published in Lin Jinlan wenji, vol. 1, pp. 276–285. 5. Ibid., vol. 1, pp. 135–156. 6. “Wokan ‘kanbu dong’ ” (我看“看不懂”, My Views on “Incomprehensible”), Lin Jinlan wenji, vol. 6, pp. 83–97. 7. “Zai tan renshi” (再谈认识, Again on Knowing), ibid., pp. 27–28. 8. “Zhen yu jia” (真 与 假 , Real and Fake), ibid., pp. 31–33. 9. “Pinglun quanwei” (评论权威, Authoritative Critic). Lin Jinlan wenji, vol. 4, pp. 43–44. 10. Published in Lin Jinlan wenji, vol. 3, pp. 3–14. 11. Published in Lin Jinlan wenji, vol. 3, pp. 275–364, 365–431, 411–488. 12. Ibid., vol. 3, pp. 277–286. 13. Ibid., vol. 3, pp. 320–327. 14. Published in Lin Jinlan, Men (门, Door), Beijing: Yanshan chubanshe, 1997, pp. 367–375. 15. Published in Lin Jinlan wenji, vol. 4, pp. 158–170.

Translations into English “The Transcript” (trans. Howard Goldblatt), in Perry Link (ed.), Roses and Thorns: The Second Blooming of the Hundred Flowers in Chinese Fiction, 1979–80. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1984, pp. 102–110.

LIU CIXIN (刘慈欣, B. 1963) A Star in Chinese Science Fiction A prolific and most popular science fiction writer in China today, Liu Cixin has been a multiple winner of the Chinese Galaxy Award for science fiction. His work The Three-body Problem (Santi, 三体, 2008) was nominated for the 2014 Nebula Award for Best Novel in China. In August 2015, he became the first Asian writer to win the Hugo Award for Best Novel in the United States with the same novel. The title refers to the three-body problem in orbital mechanics. It was translated into English by Ken Liu, a Chinese American science fiction writer, himself a winner of Hugo, Nebula, and WFA prizes, and he is also a computer programmer and lawyer. Liu Cixin’s success attracted much attention in China and abroad. A film adaptation was completed in 2015. Other sci-fi writers, such as Wang Jinkang (王晋康 , b. 1948), Han Song (韩松, b. 1965), and He Xi (何夕, b. 1971), also began to attract attention. Some of their works have now been sold to film companies. For the first time in a hundred years, this long-marginalized genre is in the limelight.


Chinese science fiction had its beginnings in the late Qing dynasty. According to Shanghai science fiction writer Ye Yonglie (叶永烈, b. 1940), 1904 was the year Chinese science fiction began, with the publication of Xu Nianci’s (徐 念 慈 , 1874–1908) “New Talk on Mr Fa Luo” (Xin Faluo xiansheng tan, 新 法 螺 先 生 谭 ) and Huangjiang Diaosou’s (荒江钓叟 , pseudonym) “The Moon Colony Tale” (Yueliang zhimin xiaoshuo, 月亮殖民小说). During the Republican period, a small number of sci-fi books were published, and the best known among them were Lao She’s (老 舍 , 1899–1966) The Cat City (Maocheng ji, 猫城记) and Xu Dishan’s (许地山, 1894–1941) “Iron Fish Gills” (Tie yusai, 铁鱼鳃, 1942). In the 1950s, a large number of science fiction writers appeared. Among them, Zheng Wenguang (郑文光 , 1929–2003), an overseas Chinese astrologist, born in Vietnam but returned to China in 1949, was regarded as “the father of Chinese science fiction.” Under the influence of utilitarianism, many writers were encouraged (or required) to write science fiction for children. All this was pushed aside during the Cultural Revolution. It was not until after the death of Mao that Chinese science fiction reemerged. The bestknown works include Zheng Wenguang’s 1979 novel Flying to Sagittarius (Feixiang renmazuo, 飞 向人马座), which depicts three youths who are swung out by a speedy machine to beyond the solar system and make their way back to earth in five years, and Tong Enzheng’s (童恩正, b. 1935) “The Dead Rays on Coral Island” (Shanghu Dao shang de siguang, 珊 瑚 岛 上 的 死 光 , Renmin wenxue, 8, 1978; film, 1980), which deals with international sabotage. By 1982, more than 20 literary journals published annually on average more than 150 short stories and novellas in the genre of science fiction. Science fiction requires imagination, and imagination is without limits. Science fiction characteristically deals with the future, and the future is beyond the confines of the present dominant ideology. It is definitely outside the pattern of socialist realism. During the Anti-Spiritual Pollution Campaign in 1983, science fiction was thus criticized by dogmatists for avoiding reality and for bringing in perverse ideas from outside, among other things. Subsequently, science fiction was suppressed. Zheng Wenguang suffered a stroke after being told about the cancellation of the publication of his novel, brutally ending his creative life. The only journal publishing science

fiction that remained was Science Fiction World (Kehuan shijie, 科幻世界) in Sichuan Province. Discouraged, most science fiction writers turned to other topics. From 1984 to 1986, Science Fiction World published only an average of 40 works annually.1 The Anti-Spiritual Pollution Campaign had ruthlessly hindered the development of science fiction. It did not regain its vigor until the 1990s. Liu Cixin was a latecomer to the scene. He was born in Yangquan (阳泉), Shanxi Province. In 1988, he graduated from Northern China Hydro-electrical College (华 北 水 利 水 电 学 院 ), majoring in hydraulic engineering. He worked as a computer engineer in the Niangziguan Electronic Factory (娘 子 关 电 厂 ), Shanxi Province. After winning many prizes, in 2014, he was transferred to the Literature, Art, and Creative Writing Office of Yangquan. Currently, he serves as vice-chairman of the Yangquan Writers’ Association.

Early Works: Social critique in science fiction Liu Cixin was greatly inspired by Arthur C. Clarke’s novel 2001: A Space Odyssey (1969). In 1999, Liu Cixin started contributing science fiction to the journal Science Fiction World (Kehuan shijie, 科幻 世界). His first story was “The Whale Song” (Jing ge, 鲸歌, 1999). In the same year, his other short story, “Bring Her Eyes Along” (Daishang ta de yanjing, 带上她的眼睛), won the first prize in the Galaxy Award, and, in 2001, his novella “Wandering Earth” (Liulang diqiu, 流浪地球)2 won the same prize. Soon, he became a frequent contributor to the journal and a multiple award winner. “The Whale Song” is a gripping tale about greed, scientific technique, and destruction. It is set in the coastal region between Florida and Cuba, and all the characters are American. Uncle Warner is a drug dealer looking for a way to smuggle heroin to shore. Dr Hopkins, a young scientist without regard for morality, comes to his assistance. Hopkins’ idea is to use a whale to do the job, because he can use computer technology to control the whale by inserting a device in its brain. The whale does not close its mouth, and they are safe. They succeed. But, on their way back, despite government rules forbidding whale killing, it is killed by those who, in the words of Hopkins, “want to get what they think they deserve,” at all cost. Ironically, Hopkins has forgotten that there are people as greedy as he and Uncle Warner.


Liu Cixin’s “Bring Her Eyes along” (Daishang ta de yanjin, 带上她的眼睛) depicts the positive side of scientific technology and combines this with a respect for professional devotion. The protagonist is about to take a short trip from work at the space center. Before departure, he is requested to bring the duplicate eyes of an unknown woman. The narrative consists of the conversation between the protagonist and the woman at an unknown location. As he enjoys the beautiful scenes of flowers, grassland, and the lake, she also sees and senses them. The mysterious identity of the woman creates suspense. It is only revealed at the end of the story that the woman has been on a mission to the center of the earth and, owing to an unforeseen technical problem, has died there after his trip. The image of a devoted scientist comes to the fore when she sends back, for future use, the material she has found, before she fades away. The protagonist, although he has never met the brave woman, remains nostalgic about their brief “contact” through the “duplicate eyes.” Liu Cixin’s science fiction contains social critique, as shown in his short story “Country Teacher” (Xiangcun jiaoshi, 乡村教师),3 which is set in a poor village. Structurally, the narrative progresses along two alternating plot lines. The main plot line centers upon the devotion of Mr Li (李老师 ), a middle-aged teacher dying of cancer, to his poor village students. Determined to eliminate ignorance in this remote place, he often tells science fiction stories to his students. His other battle against ignorance is to fight against the greedy village cadres who want to take down the beams of the school to build a temple. The second plot line comprises stories about aliens. There are colorful descriptions about the Blue Space Ship’s adventure in space and the aliens’ discussions on the issue of civilization. The two plot lines converge towards the end with Mr Li’s death after teaching Newton’s Laws. As remarked by the aliens, teachers are a “bridge between two generations.” Liu Cixin’s call for modern civilization comes to the fore through Mr Li’s devotion. Human–alien encounters are a common theme in science fiction. Liu Cixin’s aliens can be harmless. In the story “Taking Care of God” (Zhanyang Shangdi, 赡养上帝),4 millions of old-age aliens, who call themselves God, come to Earth to live with human beings and, after one year of experiencing the good and bad aspects of life in China, they are taken by the spaceship back to the cosmos. Through interactions between human

beings and the old aliens, a bond is established between them. In another story, “Taking Care of the Human Race” (Zhanyang renlei, 瞻仰人类),5 the aliens come to Earth with the purpose of correcting the negative aspects of human civilization. How future human beings use technology to build a new world after catastrophe is a recurrent subject in science fiction. In the highly imaginative “The Nano Era” (Wei jiyuan, 微纪元),6 Liu Cixin takes the reader to a distant future. The narrative begins with a striking statement made by the protagonist, a member of a team of pioneers, that he is the only human being in the universe. In flashbacks, it recounts the tragic death of his six partners and their initial mission to look for a habitable planet, on a spaceship symbolically named The Ark. When he finally returns to Earth 9,000 years later, Earth has been destroyed and has undergone great changes. Liu Cixin creates a new world of nano beings. Using nano technology, human beings are drastically reduced in size to become so small that the protagonist can only see them under a microscope. The nano beings ride on fast, feather-like vehicles; they live in buildings as small as a match. Because they are small, they consume very little of the Earth’s resources. They have built more than 10,000 cities, each as big as a ball with a diameter of 2 meters. Despite warfare, the nano beings have inherited the best part of human civilization from the Grand Era. Towards the end, Liu Cixin brings up an important aspect of life, and that is that the nano beings are genuinely happy. The final paragraphs are striking and clear cut. The protagonist suddenly realizes that there is no need to bring back the human beings from the Grand Era. To prevent them from coming back to potentially harm the Earth, the protagonist quickly burns all the human embryos stored in The Ark. Through the nano Utopia and the protagonist’s decision, Liu Cixin conveys his ecological concern about the proper use of natural resources. The nano beings are readily reminiscent of Gulliver Travels, but the moral orientation has totally given way to environmental issues. Scientific development can lead to great disasters beyond human control. Liu Cixin’s “Devils’ Building Blocks” (Mogui jimu, 魔鬼积木)7 is a powerful tale about the horrifying consequences of a DNA transformation project. The narrative is mostly set in Texas, with two episodes in the African country Zambia. It touches upon, not only


science issues, but also racial, ethical, and political issues. A scientist, Dr Aola (奥拉), originally from Zambia, has lived in the United States most of his life and now he is in charge of a big project that involves transforming DNA. The narrative has a suspenseful beginning where Dr Aola’s daughter, a reporter, has been scared to death. The flashback contains the major part of the text. Liu Cixin creates a number of horrifying scenes, the final one, particularly, showing policemen using machine guns to destroy waves and waves of living beings, with varying degrees of resemblance to human beings, coming at them. These beings all have human heads attached to bodies like those of a snake, lizard, horse, fish, tiger, or lion. The final destruction of these weird beings shows Liu Cixin’s disapproval of the direction DNA transformation is heading in.

The Past of the Earth: A trilogy By far the most import and successful work by Liu Cixin is his “Three-Body Trilogy,” also entitled “The Past of the Earth” (Diqiu wangshi, 地 球 往 事 ), which contains The Three-Body Problem, Dark Forest, and Dead End. The trilogy has a grand structure, with a range of themes such as human–alien encounters, alien civilizations, the search for a Utopia, freedom and dignity, ecological issues, and love. The background setting varies. It can be in China, the United States, Australia, or elsewhere in space. The characters travel on spaceships to other planets and beyond the solar system. The temporal setting ranges from the mid-20th century to the 23rd century and beyond. The characters, whether Chinese or foreign, tend to be idiosyncratic scientists and government and security officers. The trilogy has a wide vision. The future welfare of the Earth and human beings is the prime consideration. The threat, real or imagined, comes from the aliens rather than other countries. The work includes a large number of scientific and technical terms and concepts that, perhaps not easy to understand, are tightly interwoven with the characterization and plot development. Liu Cixin’s trilogy is a work of exuberant imagination. There are many fantastic details. For instance, human beings can release the water in their body, fold up the body like a mat, and revive it with water many years later; they can hibernate at a very low temperature and wake up centuries later; they can live on a leaf of a huge

tree; and they can call up a computer screen on a matchbox surface. In 2006, Liu Cixin’s The Three-Body Problem (Santi, 三体, 2008) was serialized in the journal Science Fiction World, and it immediately became a big hit. Liu Cixin demonstrates his storytelling technique and his knowledge of science impressively. It consists of 36 chapters. The beginning chapter immediately creates tension when Professor Wang Sen (汪森), the head scientist of a nano research project, is suddenly summoned by police chief Shi Qiang (史强) to a secret meeting, where he is asked to join the international Science Margin Association. The suicide list of four physicists creates suspense. Wang Sen plays the video game “Three Bodies” several times (Chapters 4, 16–18, 20–21, 30), and the progression to each higher level corresponds to the main plot. The video game performs an important role in the conception of the work and foreshadows the contact with the Trisolaris. In the game, the interactions between Wang Sen and historical figures such as King Wen of the Zhou Dynasty (周文王), philosopher Mo Zi (墨 子 ) and King of Qin (秦始皇), Galileo, the Pope, and Newton, all from different periods in history and different locations, totally deconstruct history and hierarchy. The Chinese elements endow the text with a strong historical sense. The chapters set during the height of the Cultural Revolution (5–9) are the most fascinating part of the narrative. The scene of a teenage girl standing on top of a building hysterically waving a red flag, being shot by the Red Guards, and falling to the ground is breathtaking. Equally gripping is the depiction of physicist protagonist Ye Wenjie’s (叶文洁) forced exile to a remote part of Heilongjiang Province because her father was condemned by the Red Guards for teaching the reactionary theory of relativity and the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum physics. She is soon betrayed by a reporter she admires (he puts the blame on her when the leadership finds out about his essay on ecological preservation) and she is forced to join the military Red Shore Project, a state secret, which necessitates her living at the site, on top of the highland, for more than a decade. The book Silent Spring, which the reporter introduces her to, becomes a motif of ecological concern. While working on the Red Shore Project (Chapters 13–15), Ye Wenjie secretly decodes the contact signals sent by the Trisolaris from many light-years away, thus initiating the three-body crisis. The Trisolaris’ civi-


lization is declining, and they want to invade Earth. Meanwhile, the Earth dwellers are suffering from unequal distribution of wealth and ecological destruction. Lurking behind the text comes Liu Cixin’s question, “If aliens have civilization, then, is there a common standard of morality in the universe?” The second novel, The Dark Forest (Heian senlin, 黑暗森林, 2008; translation, 2015), contains a preface and three parts: the Wall-facers, the curse, and the dark forest. The narrative deals with the impending three-body crisis. The Trisolaris never really appear visually, but they have sent out sophons, which can access all human information except for human minds. In order to combat this, the Wall-Facer Project is founded by the UN. Four persons are chosen to do the job, and one of them is the protagonist Luo Ji (罗辑 ), an astronomer and sociologist devoted to the study of aliens. Each wall-facer is given limitless power in their mission, which later corrupts the project. Some countries do not agree with this project and form the Wall-Breaker Project. A lapse of time occurs. When Luo Ji reemerges, it is more than 200 years later. Human beings have developed high technology that has made the Wall-Facer Project invalid. Using the technique of defamiliarization, the author depicts how the revived Luo Ji learns to adapt to the new world. The originally rough police chief, Shi Qiang (史强, who appeared in the first novel), now plays a friendly role. Through their conversation, the concepts of “kindness” and “evil” on Earth and in the aliens come to the fore. The third novel, Dead End (Sishen yongsheng, 死神永生, 2010; translation, 2016) contains six parts. The title conveys a bleak picture and pessimism. The plot mainly follows a linear progression. Each part begins with a time indication such as, “The first year of the Crisis era” and “The 13th year of the Formidable Era”; all of them are decades or two or three centuries apart. Each part includes two or three sections, named “stories outside time,” that provide the scientific explanation of, or the background to, certain projects. The narrative is tied together by two principal characters, the female space scientist, Cheng Xin (程心), and Yun Tianming (云天明), who secretly loves her. Cheng Xin is involved in a human hibernation project that requires a volunteer. Yun Tianming, who is dying of lung cancer, volunteers for the project. Their connection lingers until they meet in space two centuries later. Suspense is created when Cheng Xin and her colleagues try to

decode the secret messages Yun Tianming wants to pass on to them, through three richly encoded children’s tales, to combat the Trisolaris. Cheng Xin is the embodiment of human kindness and love. She is referred to as the saintly mother. Love is a genuine quality of humanity, but it does not necessary lead to good results. Cheng Xin has been chosen by the UN to inherit Liu Ji’s position and become the Sword Holder who has the key to turn on the weapon to destroy the invading Trisolaris. To her, that means she can destroy both the Earth and the Trisolaris, and this makes her hesitate. The Trisolaris, knowing Cheng Xin’s kindness, launch the attack quickly while she hesitates. This leads to the destruction of the Earth. Despite Liu Cixin’s literary merits, his writing is not without defects. Sometimes, the text is too dense with scientific explanations. Many of his characters are symbols rather than fully-fledged human beings. However, he has made a great contribution to the genre of science fiction, and to contemporary Chinese literature as a whole, by opening up a fresh, imaginative world unseen in mainstream literary genres.

Notes 1. Pan Xulan (潘旭澜, ed.), Xin Zhongguo wenxue cidian (新中国文学词典, Dictionary of Literature in New China). Nanjing: Jiangsu wenyi chubanshe, 1993, p. 920. 2. See Baidu, Collected Works of Liu Cixin. Online at (accessed March 18, 2016). 3. Collected in Liu Cixin, Wang Jinkang (王晋康), He Xi (何夕), Wu Yan (吴岩), Liu Weijia (刘维佳), Yan Leisheng (燕垒生), and Xia Jia (夏茄), Chongzi de shijie (虫子的世界, The World of Insects). Beijing: Beijing Ligong Daxue chubanshe, 2015, pp. 1–42. 4. See Baidu, Collected Works of Liu Cixin. Online at (accessed March 18, 2016). 5. Ibid. 6. Published in Liu Cixin, Wang Jinkang (王晋康), He Xi (何夕), Xia Jia (夏茄), Jiang Bo (江波), A Que (阿 缺), and Yan Leisheng (燕垒生), Wei jiyuan (微纪元, Nano Era). Beijing: Beijing Ligong Daxue chubanshe, 2015, pp. 2–28. 7. See Baidu, Collected Works of Liu Cixin. Online at (accessed March 18, 2016).

Translations into English The Three-Body Problem (trans. Ken Liu). New York: Tor Books, 2015.


The Dark Forest (trans. Joel Martinsen). New York: Tor Books, 2015. Death’s End (trans. Ken Liu). New York: Tor Books, 2016.

LIU HENG (刘恒, B. 1954) From Fiction to Film to Drama Liu Heng, a highly regarded Chinese fiction and film scriptwriter, was born in Beijing, although his parents were from Wanping County (宛平县), which is about 200 km southwest of the capital. After 1949, his parents moved to the capital, where his father worked as a policeman. He attended the primary school attached to the Beijing Foreign Language Institute, where he had the chance to study Russian. He was 13 when the Cultural Revolution broke out in 1966. In order to protect him, his parents sent him back to their home village, Hongshui Yu (洪水峪, Flood Valley), to live with his paternal grandparents. He was deeply sympathetic to the peasants’ miserable living conditions. Later, these impressions would form an important source of his fiction. Liu Heng joined the armed forces in 1969 after he returned to Beijing. For six years he was stationed north of the Great Wall, and his duty was to listen to radio broadcasts from the Soviet Union. It was during these years that he became interested in literature. After he was discharged from the armed forces, he was so indoctrinated with the Maoist idea that writers should live among the workers, peasants, and soldiers that he naively exchanged his original assignment to work in the History Museum to take up the job of a welder in the Beijing Automobile Factory. He soon realized that his 12-hour work shift left him little time to write. In an interview, he revealed that one time he purposely injured his arm in order to get sick leave, so that he could have time to write.1 Liu Heng’s writing career falls into two large groups.

Hunger, sexual suppression and death After publishing his debut story, “Small Stone Grinder” (Xiao shimo, 小石磨, Beijing wenxue, 7, 1977), Liu Heng was recruited by the literary magazine Beijing Literature to work as a temporary assistant editor. In 1979, he was promoted to editor and began publishing short stories. His early works mostly deal with the love and dreams of

young workers, but they did not make a deep impression on readers. Liu Heng became known with the publication of the short story “Damned Grain” (Gouri de liangshi, 狗日的粮食, Zhongguo, 9, 1986), which can be considered a harbinger of New Realism in rural fiction. It is a starkly realistic story of how a poor peasant couple, with many children, struggle to survive in a repressive milieu. On a realistic level, the story can be interpreted as a critique of the irrational rural policy. On an allegorical level, it epitomizes a life cycle of inevitable burdens. The key image of grain holds the narrative together. The narrative begins with the image of grain—Yang Tiankuan (杨天宽) buying his wife with 200 kg of grain—and ends some 20 years later with grain—Yang’s wife losing the ration tickets for grain, and her subsequent suicide by eating poisonous bitter almonds. “Damned Grain” combines the three characteristic elements of Liu Heng’s fiction—hunger, sexual suppression, and suicide (death). While portraying the Sisyphean struggle of the povertystricken Yang and his wife Goiter to find food to satisfy their six children’s endless hunger, it lays bare their succumbing to sexual desires, which in turn results in their having more mouths to feed. The goiter on the wife’s neck, which becomes her nickname, is a metaphor of her lifelong burden. Goiter marries her husband for grain and she dies because of grain. Goiter is an unforgettable female figure in Chinese rural fiction. The rhythm of the narrative is smooth and calm until Goiter accidentally loses the grain tickets for the whole family. Up to this point, she has been depicted as dominating her husband, because she has boundless energy and resourcefulness to obtain food. The paradox is that she loses what she is clever at getting—grain—and dies because of it. The year 1988 was referred to as “The year of Liu Heng,” because of the publication of his three highly acclaimed novellas, “Whirlpool” (Bai wo, 白涡, Zhongguo zuojia, 1, 1988), “The Obsessed” (Fuxi Fuxi, 伏羲伏羲, Beijing wenxue, 3, 1988), and “False Evidence” (Xuzheng, 虚证, Kaituo, 2, 1988), and the novel Black Snow (Hei de xue, 黑的雪, 1988). Liu Heng’s recurrent subjects of sexual desire and moral dilemma are explored intensively in the novella “Whirlpool.” Based on a real murder case, it is a gripping tale of sexual desire, betrayal, and guilt. It revolves around the extramarital love affair between Zhou Zhaolu (周兆路), a prominent


middle-aged scholar of traditional medicine, and Hua Naiqian (华乃倩), a pretty, aggressive graduate student. The fact that their affair is initiated by Hua follows the common literary stereotype of the femme fatale from traditional Chinese fiction. Although Zhou finds he cannot resist Hua’s physical temptation, he is at all times extremely cautious about his reputation as a respectful scholar and responsible husband, qualifications essential for his career advancement. Despite his profound knowledge of medicine, ironically, he is unable to “cure” himself. He is constantly in great fear of being exposed and in the grip of the moral dilemma, creating a psychological tension throughout the text. The striking image of the whirlpool refers, not only to his fatal attraction, but also to power struggles in his work unit. He is thus caught simultaneously in two whirlpools. The changing image of Hua reflects Liu Heng’s male-centered perspectives on women. Hua begins as a liberating, love-seeking woman trying to express her individuality. But, when she becomes Zhou’s mistress, she turns into a devouring demon hysterically trying to possess Zhou. She has fallen into a whirlpool herself. This change is significant because, as Hua’s image declines, what Zhou does to her becomes justified. The narrative ends with the implication that Zhou may murder Hua. “The Obsessed” won an award in the 1988 National Best Novellas competition and was made into a film with the title Judou (菊豆), directed by the internationally known Zhang Yimou (张艺谋), and it was the first Chinese film nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film in 1990. The story is set in Flood Valley, which bears the same name as Liu Heng’s ancestral village. It is a masterpiece, with its gripping claustrophobic atmosphere and multileveled meaning through the incestuous relationship between Judou and Yang Tianqing (杨天青), her impotent old husband’s (Yang Jinshan, 杨金山) nephew. Typically, Liu Heng places his characters in extreme situations—the husband’s desperation to have a male heir, his abusive treatment of Judou, and the nephew’s irrepressible desire for her—which altogether create a tense atmosphere throughout the text. Even after the husband’s accidental death, Judou and Yang still live constantly in fear of the exposure of their illicit relationship while, at the same time, being unable to control their mutual sexual desire. Trapped by the confines of traditional morality and in a society with limited

mobility, they have no way out. Yang Tianqing drowns himself to escape his sense of guilt. Liu Heng’s skepticism about the superficial optimism of socialist realism comes out clearly in his novella “False Evidence.” It explores and reconstructs the life of a young man who drowned. The story is based on a real incident. The firstperson narrator, identifiably Liu Heng’s authorial self, tries to piece together the circumstances and reasons surrounding the death of his friend Guo Puyun (郭普云), a 36-year-old gentle, self-pitying, and probably impotent person. The narrator makes various conjectures through fragments of information he gathers from Guo’s family, female friends, and colleagues. But none of the explanations they give is definitive. The plot contains elements of a detective story, but they only serve to create suspense. It is a tale of the indeterminacy of life, and how its course can be altered by seemingly trivial events and coincidences.

Violence: Social outcasts and the Red Guards By spring 1989, Liu Heng had written two novels, Black Snow (Hei de xue, 1988) and Free Wandering (Xiaoyao song, 逍遥颂, 1989). Black Snow is a work of psychological realism. Set in the late 1970s, the protagonist, a social outcast just released from prison, is thrust into a society entering into economic reform. Despite his efforts, he faces continuous failure in his attempt to be accepted by society and to win the love of a singer. As white snow is irreversibly blackened by the dirty environment, he cannot escape his criminal past and is killed by a gangster. The film based on the novel, directed by Xie Fei (谢飞, a fourthgeneration director), won the Hundred Flowers Award (1990) in China and the Silver Bear Award at the 40th International Film Festival in Berlin (1990). Liu Heng’s talent in script writing was quickly recognized. From then on, he became an eagerly courted film scriptwriter in China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Liu Heng’s second novel, Free Wandering (Xiaoyao song, 逍遥颂), was completed in April 1989 and published in book form in 1993. The title, Free Wandering, originally the title of a chapter from philosopher Zhuangzi’s work, is here used in irony. It is a work of violence, grotesque and absurd, yet plausible in the context of the Cultural Revolution. It deals with the evil behavior of six teenage Red Guards who take


possession of a school building during factional conflicts. Liu Heng’s exploration of the negative aspects of human nature is not limited to adults. These young hooligans are detached from their families. They have no names and, therefore, they have lost their real identities. They appropriate rank titles and they are referred to as Commander, Vice-Commander, Foreign Affairs Minister, and Transportation Minister. Equally absurd is their obsessive use of the political slogans of the Cultural Revolution. The entire narrative takes place in a Kafkaesque atmosphere, the only outlet to the outside world being a small window (because all the other windows are covered by posters) and a broken radio, from which only propaganda can be heard. Their confined situation and confined minds are directly opposite to the free spirit of Zhuangzi. The narrative subverts the self-proclaimed heroism of the Red Guards generation. When preparing to fight the enemies (the other Red Guard faction), who never show up, they manipulate each other for power. This is a microcosm of Cultural Revolution China, where infighting among political factions became commonplace. Such cruel power struggles remind one of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, which is dominated by teenagers who commit all sorts of evil deeds. The only adult in the narrative is the old, weak schoolmaster. He is eventually tortured to death by these Red Guards. His death symbolizes the destruction of social order and of education. Liu Heng’s first work set in the Cultural Revolution remains the only allegorical attempt at a critique of the young Red Guards.

Recalling the Past with Pessimism, and Treating the Present with Black Humor The second stage of Liu Heng’s writing began in 1990. His third novel, Green River and Day Dreams (Qinghe bairi meng, 清河白日梦, 1993), reveals Liu Heng’s pessimism about human nature and history. Sandwiched between the first-person reporter’s remarks, the main text is told by a man nicknamed Erduo (耳朵, Ear), a 100-year-old man now living in an old people’s home. The old man recalls, in 34 tapes, the most romantic and tragic chapters of his life. The key action covers a period of slightly longer than a year in the late Qing era. It depicts, from Erduo’s perspective, his young master’s marriage, the deaths of the master’s wife and her French lover, and the execution of the

young master as a head of an underground patriotic secret society. The fact that Erduo, the narrator, eavesdrops on the activities of his master and mistress by perching on the roof at night creates suspense and mystery. The reader, like Erduo, is left to imagine what actually happens to the masters. The limited angle of observation by a 16-year-old servant makes the characters and their actions fragmentary and, hence, hinders the development of the otherwise potentially more exciting story. Liu Heng’s 1997 novella, “The Happy Life of Garrulous Zhang Damin” (Pinzui Zhang Damin de xingfu shenghuo, 贫嘴张大民的幸福生活, Beijing wenxue, 10, 1997), marks a turn from a heavy style to light, as he termed it. In an interview, Liu Heng said that the squalid conditions described in the story were drawn from his own experience. Making use of Beijing dialect and the Beijing people’s habit of chatting, Liu Heng constructs lively dialogues among the members of an ordinary family from Beijing’s “hutong” (胡 同 , alleyway) community. The shortage of living space becomes a key issue among the Zhang family. The extreme lack of privacy is shown in the episode where a newlywed couple has to put their bed beside their brother and sister-in-law’s. Even so, the characters still attempt to make life meaningful. Liu Heng creates a down-to-earth tale cutting through the preconceived notion of what a worker’s life should be like. Mixing black humor with biting sarcasm, Liu Heng opened a new style in his writing. The story immediately received high acclaim and won a prize in the first Lu Xun Literary Prize in 1997 and the Lao She Literary Prize in 2000. In 1999, it was made into a television series and, in 2000, a film. Because of its wide appeal, it was adopted into pingju (评剧, a kind of opera in northern China) and serialized in the magazine Picture Story Book (Lianhuan hua, 连 环画). Liu Heng’s interest in film and script writing began when he was in the armed forces. In an interview, he said he wrote several unpublished plays and film scripts in the 1970s. Liu Heng’s success with his film scripts for Black Snow (1990) and Judou (1990) led to more opportunities to write outstanding and award-winning works, such as The Story of Qiuju (based on Chen Yuanbin’s (陈源斌) story “The Lawsuits” [Wanjia susong, 万 家诉讼]). In the 1990s, Liu Heng continued to write screenplays, including A Soul Haunted by Painting (Hua hun, 画魂, 1993, based on a novel by Ye


Nan, 叶楠); Red Rose, White Rose (Hong meigui, bai meigui, 红玫瑰,白玫瑰, 1994, based on a Zhang Ailing (张爱玲) story of the same title); The Great Conqueror’s Concubine (Xi Chu bawang, 西楚霸王, 1994); Breaking the Silence (Piaoliang mama, 漂亮妈妈, 2000); and, most recently, Zhang Side (Zhang Side, 张思德), Song of Water and Clouds (Yunshui yao, 云水谣, 2006, based on a true love story of a Taiwanese), The Assembly (Jijie hao, 集结号, 2007), The Flowers of War (金 陵十三钗, 2011, based on Yan Geling’s [严歌苓] novel), Iron Man (Tie ren, 铁人, based on Wang Jinxi’s [王进喜] story), and The Killer (Shajie, 杀戒, 2013, based on Yu Shengli’s [俞胜利] stories “Bright Eyes” [Liangyan, 亮眼] and “Number Six” [Lao liu, 老六]). With many national and international awards to his name, Liu Heng has become the highest-paid scriptwriter in China. In the fall of 2000, Liu Heng enrolled in the Beijing Film Institute, studying directing with Xie Fei. With the support of a Hong Kong producer, he directed the television series The Young Prince (Shaonian tianzi, 少年天 子), which was based on the novel about Emperor Yongzheng of the Qing Dynasty by the woman writer Ling Li (凌力, b. 1942). Liu Heng’s recent work is the play Wotou Compound (Wotou Huiguan, 窝头会馆, 2009), which centers upon the lives of members of the lower stratum in Beijing. It was performed from September 15 to November 8 at the prestigious People’s Arts Theatre in Beijing, 2009, and attracted a wide audience. Liu Heng is a serious writer with a strong humanitarian concern. His language is versatile and forceful. Whereas one is mesmerized by the concentrated diction in “The Obsessed,” one is also impressed by the fluid style in “The Happy Life of Garrulous Zhang Damin.” Liu Heng is among the very few writers who are at home in both rural and urban fiction. He is unique in that he has gained great acclaim in writing both fiction and film scripts. Critics also refer to him as a writer of New Realism, a trend that emerged in 1987. In fact, his “Damned Grain,” which appeared in 1986, had clearly begun this new trend. Though Liu Heng derives more popularity and money from his film scripts, he still cherishes writing fiction as his top priority.

Note 1. Based on several interviews with the author, from August 1994 to 2009.

Translations into English “Damned Grain” (trans. William Riggle), Chinese Literature, Summer (1990): 3–17. Also, “Dogshit Food” (trans. Deirdre Sabina Knight), in Joseph S. M. Lau and Howard Goldblatt (eds.), The Columbia Anthology of Modern Chinese Literature. New York: Columbia University Press (Modern Asian Literature Series), 1995, pp. 416–428. The Obsessed (trans. David Kwan). Beijing: Chinese Literature Press, 1991. Black Snow (trans. David Kwan). Beijing: Chinese Literature Press, 1991; also Black Snow: A Novel of the Beijing Demimonde (trans. Howard Goldblatt). New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1993. Green River Day Dreams: A Novel (trans. Howard Goldblatt). New York: Grove Press, 2001. “The Heated Earthen Bed,” in Ren Zhong and Yu Zhiyang (trans. and eds.), Hometowns and Childhood. San Francisco, CA: Long River Press, 2005.

LIU QINGBANG (刘庆邦, 1951) King of Short Fiction Liu Qingbang established his literary reputation in the early 1980s, not by breaking taboo subjects like many pioneering post-Mao writers, but by his continuous effort in writing a large number of high-quality short stories. Whereas most Chinese writers tend to begin their writing career with short stories and move on to novels, Liu Qingbang has remained faithful to the former, producing on average more than a dozen pieces per year. For his devotion and artistic achievement, he has gained the title “king of short fiction.” Ironically, Liu Qingbang’s predilection for short-fiction writing grew initially, not out of choice, but out of necessity. During the early stage of his writing career, his living conditions were not conducive to writing long works, because he had little leisure time working as a full-time coal miner. Furthermore, his tiny room was too small for a desk, and he had to sit on a stool and write on a chair. A native of Shenqiu County (沈丘县) of eastern Henan Province, Liu Qingbang suffered political discrimination because his father was a lowranking Nationalist officer during the Republican period. His father passed away in 1960, leaving his mother alone to bring up six children (his youngest brother died at a young age). Poverty left a deep scar on Liu Qingbang’s consciousness.


He recalled a heart-breaking scene from childhood when, one day, his second elder sister broke down and cried bitterly after being told to stop going to school because the family could not afford it. As a boy, he was able to go to school. He studied diligently, aiming to attend university in a city. However, his dream was shattered when the Cultural Revolution broke out, and the entire university education system ground to a halt. In November 1966, he participated in the Red Guards’ Great Revolutionary Linkup by taking the train to Beijing to attend a rally in Tian’anmen Square. It was his first time outside his hometown, and he was amazed to experience the disparities between the rural and the urban. From that time on, he was determined that some day he would make his way to the city. Under Maoist rule, the Chinese population was strictly divided into the urban and the rural. It was very difficult, at least until the 1990s, to move from the countryside to the city. This lack of mobility has caused great pain for rural youth (see also Lu Yao’s fiction on the topic). After the Great Revolutionary Linkup, Liu Qingbang returned home to work as a peasant. Soon, he was recruited to write for the local propaganda team and then the broadcast station in the commune. He tried to join the army, hoping that after discharge he would be assigned to work in the city. However, he was disqualified owing to his father’s “bad” political background. At 19, he managed to obtain a worker’s job in a coal mine, where he worked for nine years. Liu Qingbang’s early works during the Cultural Revolution were mainly propagandistic scripts for local broadcasting. In 1978, he published his first story, “White Cotton” (Mianhua baishengsheng, 棉花白 生生), which is about the hard life of coal miners. Subsequently, he was transferred to Beijing in 1978 and worked for a coal-industry newspaper. In 2001, he was recruited to become a professional writer in the Beijing Writers’ Association. Ironically, like many writers of rural origin now living in the city, Liu Qingbang relies heavily on his rural experiences as a creative source. As he says: My feelings toward my hometown are contradictory. I love my hometown, yet I used any means to escape it. I tried to get away from it, yet I have maintained my contact with it. I see the beauty of it, and I also see its ugliness. I see kindness in the villagers, and I also

see evil in them. I feel its pain, and I also feel warm about it. China has a long history of agrarian culture and Chinese literature has a deep foundation. Every writer has his/her roots, and the root of my writing resides in my native soil.1 He still feels he has no roots in the city. Every year, he returns to visit his home village and the coal mine to recharge. Liu Qingbang’s fictional works largely deal with two groups of characters: the coal miners and the peasants. The former stories tend to focus on the harsh, cruel situations, the latter on pastoral themes. He admires the Dream of the Red Chamber and is particularly fond of the writings of Lu Xun (鲁迅) and Shen Congwen (沈从文).2 His language is concise, sensitive, and fluid and closely identifies with the character’s psychological state. He excels at creating emotional tension and skillfully handles suspense in myriad ways, usually revolving around a key image.

The Coal Mine: Human desires and morality By far Liu Qingbang’s most successful works are those that deal with the lives of the coal miners. His short story “The Coal Miners” (Zou yao han, 走窑汉, Beijing wenxue, 9, 1985) focuses on an extreme human condition. The narrative focuses on the intense conflicts between two coal miners, Ma (马) and Zhang (张). The plot only becomes clear at the end of the story. In an environment where women were scarce, when Ma went to work, he locked his new wife in a room. However, one day when Ma was at work, Zhang raped his wife. Ma was imprisoned after injuring Zhang with a knife, but he was let out early for a good behavior. The narrative begins four years later, in the mine changing room, when Zhang is startled as Ma “accidentally” drops the knife he used to injure him before. Ma begins to stalk Zhang, sometimes with the assistance of his wife. Zhang has a nervous breakdown and kills himself by jumping into a pit. A moment later, Ma’s wife also kills herself, by jumping off a building, which creates another dimension to the text. Whereas Zhang’s suicide is understandable, the death of Ma’s wife remains ambiguous: she probably suffered a double victimization, first by her despotic husband and then by the rapist.


Liu Qingbang’s realistic novel Red Coal (Hong mei, 红煤, 2006) is, in a sense, the modern Chinese Scarlet and Black. The black coal and red blood are metaphors for the miners’ harsh living conditions. The ambitious protagonist, who is a temporary coal miner, is eager to change his status. Finally, he succeeds in becoming the son-in-law of the coal-mine owner. After reporting on his fatherin-law for illegal activities, which leads the latter to be put in jail, he takes over the enterprise. In this story, Liu Qingbang delineates the moral decline of China’s recent upstarts in their unscrupulous drive for money. The novel ironically ends with the protagonist trying to run away, after committing an economic crime. Liu Qingbang’s gripping short story “The Plain-Clothed Reporter” (Wodi, 卧底)3 unveils, not only the hell-like conditions in illegal coal mines, but also vulnerable human nature. To secure his position in a newspaper press, the reporter protagonist sets out to write a feature story about the dark side of society. He disguises himself as a peasant looking for work in a train station and pretends to be “tricked” by two human traffickers and taken to work in an illegal coal mine in a remote mountainous region. Once there, he unexpectedly becomes isolated and suffers mistreatment. The twist in the plot unfolds the weakness of human nature. When the reporter’s true identity is exposed, the owner treats him like an honorary guest and pretends he is going to bribe the reporter with $6,000. As the reporter is about to take the bribe, the owner suddenly locks him underground. The reporter escapes death through mere luck, as an accident in a nearby mine leads to police intervention. The novella “Sacred Wood” (Shen Mu, 神木)4 unveils a deeper moral crisis in Chinese society. The expression “sacred wood” refers metaphorically to coal, which comes from trees and shines when burnt. To make quick money, Zhang (张) and Zhu (朱, both use fake names) trick Yuan (袁) into working in an illegal coal mine, pretending to be Zhu’s brother. They treat Yuan well in order to gain his trust. Deep down in the pit, they kill Yuan, faking his death as an accident. They then negotiate for compensation with the mine owner, who does not want the “incident” known. They succeed in obtaining a large sum of money. The two villains decide to do the same thing one more time. The author creates a coincidence to make his point. Yuan’s son, a high-school student, goes out to work and look for his father. Zhang

and Zhu use the same trick again, but, when they find out the young man’s identity, they react differently—Zhang wants to go ahead, but Zhu does not. The split elevates the narrative to a conflict between morality and evil. Zhu, now feeling guilty, has no alternative but to kill Zhang in a similar way, so that the young man can obtain compensation. An unexpected turn brings something positive. The young man refuses to accept the compensation. The novella was made into the film Blind Shaft (Mengjing, 盲井), which won the Silver Bear Award at the 53rd Berlin Film Festival in 2007.

Village Tales: The pastoral, folk culture, and the famine Liu Qingbang’s rural tales are thematically diverse and skillfully constructed. “Yuzi” (Yuzi, 玉子, Beijing wenxue, 10, 1986) portrays a despairing village woman, Yuzi, who carefully plans her revenge after being raped by two unknown men in the dark. Her parents and the local authorities refuse to give her any help, and the villagers humiliate and shun her. The story could have ended here as a social critique of human cruelty. The plot, however, takes an unexpected turn. Yuzi lies in bed for five days and five nights. What goes through her mind is not told. After that, she tells her parents that she wants to find a husband. When the butcher of goats (the rapist) comes to propose, she, recognizing his odor, immediately agrees to marry him. One day, a friend of his (the other rapist) comes to visit him, and they get into an argument. The story ends with Yuzi coming back with two policemen. The suspense is maintained throughout the text until Yuzi’s secret plan is fulfilled. Liu Qingbang’s story “Meiniu Grazing a Sheep” (Meiniu fangyang, 梅 妞 放 羊 , Shidai wenxue, 5, 1998) is a beautiful pastoral tale of simplicity and tranquility. Meiniu, a village girl, is a shepherd. The entire narration contains the depiction of her interaction with the sheep and her vague sexual awakening through watching the sheep feeding her babies. Images of nature, from sunshine to rainstorm, are brought in effortlessly to describe Meiniu’s mood changes. Liu Qingbang’s short stories dealing with the pastoral often incorporate elements of folk culture. “Shoes” (Xie, 鞋, Beijing wenxue, 1, 1997) is a moving tale of beauty and sadness. Eighteen-yearold village girl Shouming (守明) is betrothed to a


talented young man in another commune, whom she refers to as “that person” (Nei ge ren, 那个 人). The narrative focuses on the zigzag psychological journey of the yearning bride-to-be as she is making a pair of shoes for her future husband, according to local custom. The key image of the handmade shoes symbolizes her love and her wish to walk the path of life together with her future husband. Yet, when she does give him the shoes, he quickly puts them in his bag without trying them on. A lapse of time is introduced at this point to create artistic distance. The epilogue—seemingly unimportant—actually contains the theme of the story. The narrative perspective is now from “That person.” It turned out that he took the shoes to the city and, years later, as he began to buy sports shoes and leather shoes, he felt those old shoes were out of fashion. Subsequently, when he revisited his hometown, he returned the shoes to her. Now he confesses, “Later I thought I must have hurt her and I feel sorry for the rest of my life.” There is no one to blame. Although one feels sorry for the woman, one also laments helplessly the loss of customs in the tide of modernization. “Handicraft” (Shouyi, 手艺, 2002)5 depicts metaphorically the disappearing art of mending broken chinaware. For a long time, the old artist has had an unrequited love for another woman in the village. At his young daughter’s request, he performs, for the last time, the art of mending the broken bowl as a tribute both to the ancient folk art and to his beloved. The broken bowl image, hence, ironically implies the vanishing art and his unrequited love. No matter whether depicting coal-mine cruelty or pastoral beauty, Liu Qingbang’s language is accurate and fluid and has occasional humor. His carefully chosen focal images, such as the knife, the shoes, the letter, the broken rice bowl, and the bicycle, as well as his many surprise endings, such as the suicide of the wife in “The Coal Miner” and the abandonment of the village girl in “Shoes,” make the reader reconsider the text. Henan Province was among the most heavily affected provinces in the Great Famine of the late 1950s. Writers from that province who had experienced the disaster would naturally wish to write about it. Liu Qingbang’s novel Ballad of the Plain (Pingyuan shang de geyao, 平原上的歌谣, 2009) is one such work. It exposes firsthand how the extreme Maoist policies led to the horrible Great Famine.

Urban Life: Youthful dreams and alienation Besides the rural and the coal-mine settings, Liu Qingbang also deals with urban life. His novel My Juvenile Years (Shaoning shidai, 少年时代, 2002) can be read as a Bildungsroman of a peasant youth striving to change his fate. It is a truthful record of Liu Qingbang’s own journey against the odds—poverty, peer pressure, and political pressure—in order to find a way out of a confined rural setting. The novel contains historically significant details about the Cultural Revolution in rural China. Admirably, Liu Qingbang confesses that he attacked his teacher during the Cultural Revolution because he thought his teacher had humiliated him by correcting his essay. With regard to his trip to Beijing during the Great Revolutionary Linkup, he recalls his excitement at seeing a truck, a train, and the railway station for the first time. Throughout the text, one see’s his strong consciousness of the differences between rural and urban. Liu Qingbang’s city is one of hollowness and alienation. The story “City Life” (Chengshi shenghuo, 城市生活, Yangguang, 8, 2002) is a modernist tale of alienation and absurdity. The protagonist lives in a high rise, where he does not know the names of his neighbors, and communication with them is next to null. In trying to find a spot to store his bicycle, he gets into a silent battle with an unknown neighbor. Noticing a broken bicycle in a storage place, he throws it into a nearby garbage dump, but three times it is moved back to the same spot. The battle between him and the broken bicycle’s owner becomes part of his daily routine. What is maddening is that the owner never appears. The protagonist battles with a shadow, just like his inability to find anyone with whom to communicate in the city. Liu Qingbang has not received the attention he deserves. Placed on the spectrum of contemporary Chinese literature, Liu Qingbang’s artistic achievement in short fiction is admirable, with his unique pastoral and coal-mine tales. He has put his energy into perfecting the art of short fiction, whereas most other writers only treat it as secondary to novel writing.

Notes 1. Much of Liu Qingbang’s biographical information is taken from an interview conducted by the author in October 2009 and December 2012. Also see Wang Nengxian (王能宪) and Chen Juntao (陈骏涛, eds.), Zuji: zhuming zuojia fangwen lu (足迹:著名作家访


2. 3. 4. 5.

问录, Footprints: Interviews with Famous Writers). Beijing: Zhongguo gongren chubanshe, 2011, p. 85. Wang Nianxian and Chen Juntao, p. 88. Collected in Liu Qingbang, Wodi (卧底, The PlainClothed Reporter). Chengdu: Sichuan wenyi chubanshe, 2007, pp. 1–45. Wodi, pp. 188–246. Collected in Liu Qingbang, Liu Qingbang duanpian xiaoshuo xuan (刘庆邦短篇小说选, Selected Short Stories by Liu Qingbang), Beijing: Zuojia chubanshe, 2012, pp. 77–87.

Translations into English “The Good Luck Bun” (trans. Donald A. Gibbs), in Perry Link (ed.), Roses and Thorns: The Second Blooming of the Hundred Flowers in Chinese Fiction, 1979–80. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1984, pp. 83–101. “Shoes” (trans. Chiying Wang), Chinese Literature, 1(1998): 56–65. “Troubled Hearts” (trans. Mingjie Wang), Chinese Literature, 1 (1999): 31–43. “Snow-white Coal” (trans. Fanqin Yu), Chinese Literature, 1 (1999): 44–54. “The Magpie Tragedy” (trans. Haiyan Chen), Chinese Literature, 1 (1999): 55–66. “Lost in Amber” (trans. Xianfeng Mu), Chinese Literature, 1 (1999): 67–76. “Letter,” Chinese Literature, November–December (2000): 66–78. “Night” (trans. Mingjie Wang), Chinese Literature, May–June (2000): 84–96. “Deft Hands” (trans. Xiaoying Lynette Shi), in Street Wizards and Other New Folklore. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 2009, pp. 277–293.

LIU SHAOTANG (刘绍棠, 1936–1997) Preserving Tales along the Grand Canal Liu Shaotang was referred to as the “Son of the Grand Canal” (yunhe zhizi, 运河之子) for his devotion to writing the lives of people in his hometown Tongzhou (通州 ) along the North Canal. He belonged to the new generation of writers to emerge after the founding of the People’s Republic. A precocious writer, he became widely known in his mid-teens with his fresh stories, and one of them was included in a middle-school textbook. However, despite his bright prospect in literary creation, he was condemned as a Rightist at the

age of 21 and silenced for 22 years. From the early 1980s onwards, until his untimely death in 1997, he wrote a large number of works and vigorously promoted his notion of “Xiangtu xiaoshuo” (乡土小说, Native Soil Fiction).

A Prodigy from the Grand Canal Liu Shaotang was born in Rulin Village (儒林村) of Tongzhou (通州), Hebei Province, which is located east of Beijing along the North Canal. He entered a traditional school in his village when he was six and, at ten, he took his fifth grade in the township of Tongzhou. At 11, he imitated May Fourth writer Liu Dabai’s (刘大白, 1880–1932) novel Childhood (Tongnian, 童年, also named Saner kuxueji, 三儿苦学记, 1935) to write the story “Drifting” (Piaoling, 飘零), which is based on his own experience between the village and the city. It was serialized in the weekly Food for Wisdom (Yizhi, 益智), run by local left-wing students. Through the small library set up by these students, Liu Shaotang learned about the May Fourth writers. At 12, he joined a branch organization of the communist underground in Tongzhou. In the mean time, he came first among 5,000 candidates to enter the Number Two Middle School in Beijing. By 13, Liu Shaotang had published more than ten mini-stories in newspapers and magazines. His short story “Red Flower” (Honghua, 红花) appeared in Chinese Youth News (Zhongguo qingnian bao, 中国青年报), which landed him an editing job in the Union of Writers and Artists of Hebei Province. Six months later, he became one of the “key persons to be nurtured by the party” (zhongdian peiyang duixiang, 重点培养对象) and was sent to attend Luhe Middle School (潞河中学), a prestigious school founded by American missionaries during the Republican period. By 15, Liu Shaotang had published more than 20 short stories and was given the privilege of going to “experience life” in Northeast China. By 20, he had published two story collections, Green Branches and Leaves (Qingzhi lüye, 青枝绿叶, 1953) and Private Visit (Sifang ji, 私访记, 1956). His short story “Green Branches and Leaves,” which concerns rural young people’s attitudes toward agricultural cooperation, was included in a middle-school textbook. Even though confined by party ideology, Liu Shaotang’s early stories are fresh in diction and lively in characterization and often have unex-


pected twists in plot development. For instance, at the beginning of the short story “At the Moorage” (Baidukou, 摆渡口, written in 1952),1 the pastoral scene is immediately conjured up with the energetic young protagonist Yu Qinglin (俞 青 林 ) shooing the ducks to the river. The narrative unfolds naturally. In the morning, he kindly offers to help a truck driver cross the river. Later in the day, the girl in red coming back with the truck adds suspense to the plot. At the climax, the truck almost falls into the river, but is saved in the nick of time by the protagonist. By so doing, the protagonist saves, not only the truck (which contains state property: modern farm tools), but also the girl. As a pattern in socialist fiction, romantic love goes hand in hand with the political line of the time, and Liu Shaotang’s story is no exception. Typically, the conversation between the two youths begins with her asking him if he is a member of the Communist Youth League, and whether his family has joined the Cooperative. The story could have ended at the point where the girl replies she will come back in the fall. Liu Shaotang adds a traditional cultural dimension to the story by bringing in a Chinese folk element: the story takes place at the Qiqiao Festival (乞巧节, July 7 in the lunar calendar; during that night, the weaving maid and her cowherd husband meet on the Milky Way, according to the folktale), while, at the same time, echoing an earlier remark of a villager to the protagonist’s mother that her son will have no problem getting a wife. Liu Shaotang began writing his first novella, “The Sound of Oars along the Canal” (Yunhe de jiangsheng, 运 河 的 桨 声 , 1955), while he was waiting for the result of the university entrance examination and he completed it in his first year at Beijing University. The novella, set in a village along the North Canal, revolves around the villagers’ different reactions to the implementation of the Cooperative policy. The scenery description is fresh, reflecting the influence of Sun Li (孙犁, 1913–2002), a leading figure of the Lotus Lake School (Hehuadian pai, 荷花淀派). The characters are lively but stereotypical. Rich peasants (Tiangui, 天贵, and his wife) are portrayed as antagonists scheming to sabotage the Cooperative; the middle peasants (Fugui, 富贵, and his wife) are fencesitters but are eventually won over by the persuasion of the active party youths. Meanwhile, tension is built between the rich peasant Tiangui and the wanted criminal Boss Six. Balance is restored with the district committee secretary’s triumph and

pledges among the young lovers for a brighter, more challenging future.

The Fall of a Prodigy: Surviving the Anti-Rightist Campaign and the Cultural Revolution In early 1956, two months after becoming a professional writer in the Chinese Writers’ Association, Liu Shaotang was invited by Beijing Literature & Art (Beijing wenyi, 北京文艺) to express his views on literature in support of the Hundred Flowers Campaign. Idealistic and enthusiastic, he responded promptly with his essay entitled “The Development of Realism in Socialist Society” (Xianshi zhuyi zai shehui zhuyi shehui de fazhan, 现实主义在社会主义社会的发展). He also published another essay, “Some Preliminary Views on the Current Problems in Literature and Art” (Wo dui dangqian wenyi wenti de yixie qianjian, 我对当前文艺问题的一些浅见), in the May issue of Literature & Art Studies (Wenyi xuexi, 文艺学习). In both essays, he took issue with the overapplication of socialist realism; he also pointed out that Mao’s Yan’an Talks (1942) should develop along with history and put more emphasis on the elevation of quality than popularization. At the National Congress of Young Writers in spring 1956, Liu Shaotang openly expressed his critical views on literary writing since 1949, which offended certain high-ranking cultural bureaucrats. To make matters worse, Liu Shaotang’s first and only campus story, “The Grasses of Xiyuan” (Xiyuan cao, 西苑草, Donghai, April 1957), was critical of the overemphasis on the collective. On June 13, 1957, Liu Shaotang was criticized by Yao Wenyuan (姚文元, who later became a member of the Gang of Four) in the Literary Gazette (Wenyi bao, 文艺报), and “The Grasses of Xiyuan” was labeled as a “big poisonous weed” (da ducao, 大毒草) for opposing the party and socialism. His other story, “Sunset on the Fields” (Tianye luoxia, 田野落霞),2 was also under attack for slandering the image of peasants and cadres. Liu Shaotang was criticized at large meetings for his allegedly bourgeois attitudes and individualism. The accusations came from fellow writers, who were under pressure to expose him. However, they only mentioned petty things in order to protect him. One said that Liu Shaotang took some steamed buns to the fields (Liu Shaotang later explained that he took them to share with poor peasants). The other said that Liu Shaotang had


once remarked that, if he had $30,000, he would be able to stay longer amid the masses. These petty remarks were twisted by the media and became evidence for his counterrevolutionary attitudes. In August 1957, Liu Shaotang was condemned as a Rightist. In March 1958, he was expelled from the party and was sent to the outskirts of Beijing, to build dikes and bridges and break stones. Then he was sent back to his home village to work in the fields. Liu Shaotang’s fellow villagers, who were proud of him for being the first to attend university and to become famous, treated him well and protected him all the way along. The local cadres deliberately assigned him to look after a cow, because he could tie it to a tree and read his books. In 1962, Liu Shaotang’s Rightist label was removed, and, unemployed, he returned to Beijing to stay with his family. When the Cultural Revolution broke out in 1966, he went back to his home village to avoid attack by the Red Guards. Once again, under the protection of the village folk, he was safe and even able to write three novels (Earth Fire [Dihuo, 地火], Spring Grass [Chuncao, 春草], and Wolf Smoke [Langyan, 狼烟]) and kept them in drawers. He felt grateful for the villagers’ kindness and often mentioned that repaying them was an impetus for his writing.3

Return of the Native: Constructing a fictional world of the Grand Canal Like many writers of his generation, Liu Shaotang was influenced by Russian and Soviet literature. His favorite work was Mikhail Sholokhov’s And Quiet Flows the Don. Since he was 15, he had always taken it along wherever he went. From Mikhail Sholokhov, he learned to use his hometown as a creative source, and to abide by realism in the depiction of scenery and characters. He admired Gogol, Tolstoy, and Chekhov and showed deep interest in French fiction, particularly works by Balzac. He imitated Balzac’s Human Comedy in his portrayals of fellow villagers. However, what shaped Liu Shaotang’s writing directly and profoundly were classical Chinese vernacular fiction, storytelling, Beijing opera, and classical prose fiction, such as strange tales (chuanqi, 传奇) from the Tang dynasty and Pu Songling’s (蒲松龄, 1640–1715) Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio (Liaozhai zhiyi, 聊斋志异) from the Qing dynasty. Since childhood, he had been mesmerized by storytelling in the market,

through which he became familiar with Chinese dramas and classical novels such as All Men are Brothers and Dream of the Red Chamber. Liu Shaotang returned to the literary scene in 1979. Having never been a worker, a peasant, a soldier, or an inmate in labor camps, he was fully aware that his strength lay in his familiarity with the lives of people by the North Canal. The North Canal has nurtured the economic, social, and cultural landscape and the temperament of its inhabitants throughout the centuries. He could draw on them for the rich repertoire of folklore, historical warfare, striking people, and unusual happenings, as well as the fates of ordinary villagers in recent Chinese history. It was likely this awareness that gave rise to Liu Shaotang’s idea of “Xiangtu xiaoshuo” (乡土小说, country fiction, literally native-soil fiction). From 1980 onward until his death, he gave many talks to young writers and university students about his idea, which he summed up in four phrases: Chinese grandeur (Zhongguo qipai, 中国气派), national style (minzu fengge, 民族风格), regional color (difang secai, 地方色彩 ), and country themes (xiangtu ticai, 乡土题材). Liu Shaotang’s novellas cover four themes: the Civil War before the communists came to power, generational conflicts, local customs and human sentiments, and life after Mao. His fictional characters are diverse, ranging from upper-class people such as village gentry, college students, and cadres, to social outcasts, misfits, beggars, child brides, refugees, and people with peculiar habits and special talents. The journeys of these characters by way of the canal add further fluidity to his tales. Some of his novellas cover freakish characters. For instance, “Bean and Melon Hedges in the Rain” (Doupeng guajia yu ru si, 豆棚瓜架雨如丝, 1987) focuses on two farmers excelling in martial arts; “Liu Jingting’s Storytelling” (Jing Liuting shuoshu, 敬柳亭说书, 1986) deals with three devoted storytellers in the 1930s (Liu Jingting, 柳敬亭, was a famous storyteller in the Ming dynasty); and “This year This Month” (Zhege nianyue, 这个年月 , 1986) delineates the strange adventures of several village women in love and marriages. Liu Shaotang tends to give prominence to studious characters, mostly male. The male protagonist who attends university automatically assumes a high status in the community, and love and opportunity will come his way. In Budding Lotus (1981), the bookish protagonist is initially ignored by others, but immediately attains a high


status once he enters university in Beijing. Young women in the village regret their short-sightedness. Notably, many of Liu Shaotang’s women characters are characterized by the knight-errant traits of “romantic” (you qing, 有情) and “righteous” (you yi, 有义). Romantic, because she dares to seek love and is loyal to love; righteous, because, once she finds out that the circumstances do not allow her to have him, she will go out of her way to look for a better match for him, or she remains single. These tough women characters may display special talents, such as the ability to fight with fists, to tie knots with ropes that no one can undo, or to cure decease with herbal medicine. Nevertheless, Liu Shaotang’s male-centered inclination is revealed in his female characters’ readiness and willingness to serve and sacrifice for their men, but rarely vice versa. Liu Shaotang successfully interweaves folk culture, local customs, and forgotten or suppressed old objects into his fiction. For instance, in his bestknown, 1980 novella, “Catkin Willow Flats” (Puliu renjia, 蒲柳人家, Shiyue, 3, 1980), there is an elaboration of the local custom of celebrating the birth of a son: as soon as Grandmother hears the cry of her newborn grandson (He Manzi, 何满 子), she burns incense, kowtows to the Buddha, and makes a wish. On the third day, she kills a lamb and three chickens and prepares a small banquet. When he is one month old, she kills a pig and six ducks and prepares a large banquet. She runs around to several villages and asks for cloth pieces to make a colorful, one-hundred-family piece of clothing; when he is one hundred days old, she puts it on him to show the guests; when he is one year old, she places a longevity cangue of copper and gold around his neck. This kind of details recurs in Liu Shaotang’s fiction, forming a significant repertoire of rediscovered, traditional, material and nonmaterial culture. Liu Shaotang’s language embodies a fine mixture of traditional and modern diction and is free from Maoist sloganeering. When he includes political slogans, he dilutes them into ordinary folk language. He often improvises lines from classical prose and poetry. His sentences show myriad changes in rhythm; some are as short as one to four words, and some are in parallelisms or varied combinations. He is particularly fond of using exaggeration in characterization and scenery descriptions. Liu Shaotang frequently employs the omniscient point of view, which allows the implied

author to move freely from one character to the next, and from one time frame to the next, resulting in fluid movement of the narrative. This freedom, however, works both ways. Although it gives greater fluidity to temporal and spatial movement, which suits tales about peculiar characters, Liu Shaotang does not seem to take advantage of the freedom to probe deeply into the emotions, thoughts, and subconscious of his characters. He prefers using dialogue to suggest the psychological state of the characters, but this is not always successful. His many interesting characters fall into types and recur in different works. His predilection for positive endings resonates with the storytelling tradition.

Death of a Prolific Writer In 1984, Liu Shaotang was invited by his mentor, Hu Yaobang (胡耀邦, then head of the Chinese Communist Youth League), to take up a highranking post in the cultural sector in Beijing. Knowing that his temperament did not fit the field of officialdom, Liu Shaotang declined the offer and used the excuse that he planned to complete 12 novels between the age of 48 and 60 (1984–1996). This promise would drive him to his death. One phenomenon among former Rightist writers was that they wrote profusely to make up for wasted time. From 1980 to 1984, Liu Shaotang published more than 20 novellas. By 1996, he had published 12 novels, 30 novellas, about 100 short stories, and hundreds of short essays, totaling about 7 million words, a large output, considering that he did not use a computer. The quick pace no doubt shows the vigor of his creative energy, but it is sad if quality is sacrificed for quantity. Liu Shaotang’s large quantity of fictional works inevitably suffer from their highly similar characters and repetitive structures.4 Moreover, his belief in using revolutionary realism (whatever its connotation might be) is seen by some as conservative, and even leftist. Placed on the spectrum of 20th-century Chinese literature, Liu Shaotang’s regional fiction about people of the North Canal occupies a unique place, with his discovery and rediscovery of forgotten or suppressed folk culture. His innovative fusion of the traditional and the modern was admirable. Liu Shaotang had a stroke in August 1988, which paralyzed the left side of his body. Despite his condition, he continued to write. At the age of


60, he died of fatigue and illness, after years of “chasing his lost time.”

Notes 1. Published in Liu Shaotang, Qingzhi lüye (青枝绿叶, Green Branches and Leaves). Beijing: Qunzhong chubanshe, 1984, pp. 124–131. It originally appeared in the magazine Xin‘gang (新港), 3, 1957. 2. Collected in Liu Shaotang, Qingzhi lüye, pp. 460–484. 3. For biographical information about Liu Shaotang, see Liu Shaotang, Wo shi Liu Shaotang (我是刘绍棠, I am Liu Shaotang). Beijing: Tuanjie chubanshe, 1996. 4. Nan Fan (南帆), “Liu Shaotang xiaoshuo de dute fengge he guding chengshi” (刘绍棠小说的独特风格和 固定程式 , The Unique Style and Pattern in Liu Shaotang’s Fiction), in his Lijie yu Ganwu (理解与感 悟, Understanding and Insights). Hangzhou: Zhejiang wenyi chubanshe, 1986, pp. 168–174.

Translations into English: Out of Mao’s China: Translation from the Chinese (adapted by Aileen T. Kitchin). New York: Popular Library, 1960. “Catkin Willow Flats,” Chinese Literature, May (1982): 10–87. “The Grasses of Xiyuan” (trans. Geremie Barmé), in W.J.F. Jenner (ed.), Fragrant Weeds: Chinese Stories Once Labeled as “Poisonous Weeds.” Hong Kong: Joint Publishing, 1983, pp. 139–166. “The Liuxiang Melon Hut” (trans. Rosie A. Roberts), Chinese Literature, Summer (1984): 5–51. “The Budding Lotus” (trans. Wendong Kuang), Chinese Literature, April (1983): 5–48. Catkin Willow Flats. Beijing: Chinese Literature Press, Panda Books, 1984. “An Encounter in Green Vine Lane,” in Best Chinese Stories, 1949–1989. Beijing: Chinese Literature Press, 1989.

LIU XINGLONG (刘醒龙, B. 1956) A Humanist from Small Town Liu Xinglong became known in the early 1990s with his distinct style of realism. Unlike his Wuhan colleagues Fang Fang (方方) and Chi Li (池莉), two pioneers of New Realism who tend to write about the everyday life of urban people in Wuhan, Liu Xinglong captures the attention of readers with the stark realism of rural and small-town life, predominantly set in Dabie Mountain (大别山) district in Hubei Province. His focus on the plight of rural

teachers and village and town cadres in the age of urban expansion and economic reform gave rise to what Chinese literary critics called the Strong Wave of Realism (xianshi zhuyi chongji bo, 现实 主义冲击波). This trend also includes He Shen (何 申, b. 1951), Tan Ge (谈歌, b. 1954), and Guan Renshan (关仁山, b. 1963), who were collectively referred to as the “Three Chariots” (sanjia mache, 三驾马车). But Liu Xinglong has gone beyond this trend, as demonstrated in his recent 1-millionword historical novel The Saintly Gate to Heaven (Sheng Tianmenkou, 圣 天 门 口 , 2005, revised edition, 2012). Liu Xinglong was born in Huangzhou (黄州), Hubei Province, though he was a native of Tuanfeng County (团风县). His father was a local cadre whose experience later gave him inspiration in writing about the problems rural cadres face. After graduation from middle school in Huangzhou, Liu Xinglong worked at a reservoir and in a department store and a factory. He began publishing stories in 1984. In the early 1990s, he was transferred to a culture office. In the mid1990s, his novella “Phoenix Harp” (Fenghuang qin, 凤凰琴, Qingnian wenxue, 5, 1992) was made into a film and won 19 prizes and was a nominee for best foreign film at the Oscars. Another of his novellas, “The Drunken Autumn Wind” (Qiufeng zuile, 秋风醉了, Changjiang wenyi, 11, 1992), was also adapted, into the film Back to Back, Face to Face (Beikaobei mianduimian, 背 靠 背 面 对 面 , 1994), which won eight prizes at the Golden Rooster Awards in China (1995) and a prize at the Tokyo International Film Festival. Liu Xinglong thus became a household name, and the year 1996 was even referred to as “the year of Liu Xinglong.” He is currently vice-chairman of the Hubei Writers’ Association and chief editor of the journal Fangcao (芳草, Fragrant Grass). Though Liu Xinglong lives in Wuhan, like many writers of rural origin, he still has strong feelings for his roots. Under the influence of the rootsearching trend of the mid-1980s, Liu Xinglong’s early stories are characterized by elements of fantasy and folk beliefs. His series “The Mystery of Dabie Mountain”1 contains nine parts, independently written between 1985 and 1988. Set in Xihe Town (西河镇), they are infused with the folklore from the district, such as summoning the soul and strange encounters with wild animals. The series begins with “My Snowy Black Forest” (Wo de xuepopo de hei senlin, 我的雪婆婆的黑森 林, pp. 10–31), which was Liu Xinglong’s first


published story. It concerns the childhood of Abuoluo (阿波罗), whose name commemorates the American Apollo rocket. But this, ironically, does not make him modern. “People’s Soul” (Ren zhi hun, pp. 31–51) contains a vivid depiction of Abuoluo’s grandmother trying to call back his soul after his sacrifice in a battle. In this series, there are stories about old soldiers recalling past battles, a devastating flood, and a hunter’s encounter with wild animals. The novella “Strange Fragrance” (Yixiang, 异香, pp. 178–238) deals with the unrequited love of Abuoluo and concludes with the death of his father. Liu Xinglong’s most significant works were written after the 1990s, and they fall into three groups.

Local Cadres: Devotion, predicament, and degeneration Beginning in the early 1990s, Liu Xinglong abandoned the use of the fantastic and turned to portray truthfully the new problems faced, not only by the ordinary peasants, but also by cadres at village and county levels, after the demolition of the People’s Communes and during the rural economic reform and urbanization. At this historical juncture, both the ruling and the ruled have to, in Liu Xinglong’s term, “share the difficulties” of change. Liu Xinglong’s moral orientation has been criticized as a loss of critical edge and a compromise with the system.2 From a thematic angle, it has expanded the scope of Chinese fiction. Liu Xinglong attracted attention with his novella “Village Party Branch Secretary” (Cun zhishu, 村支书, Qingnian wenxue, 1, 1992). It depicts the difficulties Fang (方 ), the lowly educated, middle-aged village party branch secretary, faces in the course of obtaining financial support to repair the walls of the old reservoir before the rainy season. The tension in the narrative is gradually built up through Fang’s repetitive trips to town to ask for help and the rejections he endures. There is a time-lapse. After it rains heavily for many days, Fang’s body is found under water, obviously trying to stop a hole in the wall of the reservoir. Fang’s death is already foreshadowed at the beginning, when he tells his wife not to put too much wood into the furnace, because it is not for burning a corpse. His death is the result of the total neglect of human lives on the part of bureaucracy and the unfeeling officials. Fang’s cancer is symbolic of the incurable situation.

In some of his works, Liu Xinglong transforms the simple, stereotypically negative image of the cadre as local emperor into a rounded character. To get anything done, the cadre protagonist has to deal with, not only obstacles from superiors, rivals, and colleagues at the workplace, but also the complicated network (guanxi, 关系) of clannish relationships, former teachers, classmates, and friends. Liu Xinglong’s fiction about the cadres is characterized by plot twists that take the protagonist deeper and deeper into the intricate web. It is during this journey that Liu Xinglong carves the contours of his protagonist, while at the same time conveying his moral critique. The novella “The Drunken Autumn Wind” (Qiutian zuile, 秋风醉了, Changjiang wenyi, 11, 1992) is Liu Xinglong’s first tale set in a local culture office (wenhua guan, 文化馆). The culture office is a local center responsible for the fine arts, literature, film, and so forth, in the town. It is also a microcosm of office politics and unpredictable bureaucratic decisions. The protagonist ViceDirector Wang (王副馆长) has been eyeing the position of directorship, but, no matter how hard he works, it always goes to someone else. Meanwhile, at home, he has to pacify his ambitious wife and stubborn shoemaker father. Repetition is used to show Wang’s increasing disappointments at home and at work. The irony is that, after Wang has totally abandoned his hope of promotion and devoted himself to leisure, he is given the promotion. By then, his attitude has changed, and he treats this unpredictable bureaucratic decision with a laugh. Liu Xinglong’s controversial novella “Sharing Difficulties” (Fenxiang jiannan, 分 享 艰 难 , Shanghai wenxue, 1, 1996) is set in a small town called Deer Head. The protagonist, Kong Taiping (孔太平), the party secretary of Deer Head Town, has two big merits: he has built a school and an aquacultural farm. To maintain the financial balance of the town, Kong Taiping has to juggle different sections of the local government and complex interpersonal relations. In the process, he faces temptation from female subordinates who have suspicious intentions. His biggest moral dilemma is whether to sue the boss of the aquacultural farm, who raped his cousin, or let him go, because his business accounts for more than half the town’s economy. The protagonist’s choice of the latter signifies his first downfall. Probably in order to refute the criticism of his compromise with the system, Liu Xinglong


deepens the image of the protagonist Kong Taiping. He went on to write two more novellas and put all three together to form a three-part novel, Painful Loss (Tongshi, 痛失, 2001). Kong Taiping continues to climb officialdom. He is selected to attend a special training program for cadres, which could lead to greater opportunities. The new setting becomes a testing ground for the protagonist. There he gets to know trainees from various towns, each one opening up to him the dark secrets of officialdom. In the mean time, he succumbs to the sexual temptations of the female trainees. The final part depicts Kong Taiping’s further moral deterioration–now he takes public money without hesitation; he sleeps with women without feeling any guilt. Kong Taiping’s downfall is complete at the end, as indicated symbolically by the foul smell of his own urine. He feels sorry for his once clean and healthy body, but it is too late. The title Painful Loss, hence, expresses Liu Xinglong’s lament for the degeneration of the once clean Kong Taiping, from which there is no return, and his critique of the system that makes it difficult to remain uncorrupted.

Peasants and Rural Teachers: Nostalgia and dignity Liu Xinglong depicts the changes happening to peasants’ attitudes toward farming after the dismantling of the people’s communes. “An Old Herdsman” (Huanghun fangniu, 黄 昏 放 牛 , Mangyuan, 3, 1993) focuses on an old model peasant who, having spent five years in town looking after his grandson, decides to return to his village to work on the land, only to find it impossible because of the growing cost, and because young people are leaving for the city to find jobs. Liu Xinglong shows poignantly the nostalgia of the old model farmer, who helplessly comes to realize history is moving on without return. His honor as a model worker now appears to him as totally something of the past. Liu Xinglong is inclined to view the city as a source of negative influence, and the countryside, originally pure, will eventually be contaminated by it. His novella “Bakchoy and Carrots” (Baicai luobo, 白菜萝卜, Jiangnan, 3, 1994) is a tale of the adventures of an innocent peasant in the city. The protagonist, Dahe (大河), goes to the city to visit his younger brother Xiaohe (小河) and sister-inlaw, who sell farm products. Because they do not have a residential permit, they live on the edge of

town. That the actions mostly take place in this symbolically transitional place is significant. Dahe is exposed to the negative aspects of the city, one after another: his former girlfriend works as a prostitute, and his brother Xiaohe has turned into a crook and exploiter. Dahe is also manipulated by Xiaohe into sleeping with a sexy widow. When Dahe returns to his village, he is no longer who he was. Once he has crossed over the town border, he has gone on a path of no return. In Zhiqing fiction, sent-down youths have been generally portrayed as victims. However, writers of peasant origin have different views. From the early 1990s onward, a large number of memoirs about rustication emerged, creating a phenomenon called “Zhiqing Fever” (Zhiqing re, 知青热). Many former Zhiqing made trips back to their place of rustication, trying to reconnect with the peasants there. Liu Xinglong’s story “Dashu Is Still Small” (Dashu haixiao, 大树还小, Shanghai wenxue, 1, 1998) presents a totally negative portrait of the former Zhiqing characters. The narrative is focalized through the point of view of Dashu (大树), a peasant teenager who is prevented from going to school because of disease. Dashu’s parents were friends of the Zhiqing in their youth. He is a pivotal character in that he knows the two bad deeds done by the Zhiqing in the village. One was that the Zhiqing White Dog accused the then brigade leader Qin of raping a female Zhiqing, but actually they were secretly in love, resulting in Qin’s imprisonment and the subsequent suicide of the female Zhiqing. The second was that Dashu’s sister, coincidentally working in White Dog’s company in the city, was seduced by him. Once Dashu learns about the latter, he refuses White Dog’s offer to take him to the city to receive medical treatment. The plot appears to be too contrived. Throughout the text, Liu Xinglong is too eager to speak up for the peasantry against the Zhiqing. From a wider perspective, both the peasants and the Zhiqing were victims of the extreme political policies. Liu Xinglong’s best-known work, “Phoenix Harp” (Fenghuang qin, 凤凰琴, Qingnian wenxue, 5, 1992), is a moving tale of humanitarian sentiments delivered in an unhurried rhythm. In this novella, Liu Xinglong depicts the kindness, mutual respect, and nobility of several rural teachers, despite the shortage of funding and their continuous humiliation as uncertified teachers. The firstperson protagonist, Zhang Yingcai (张英才), a naive outsider who is assigned to work among


these teachers, gradually learns the personal history of these teachers and comes out as a maturer individual. In this sense, the novel is also a Bildungsroman. The key image of the Phoenix Harp, apart from its function to create suspense, carries deeper significance of friendship and remorse. It turns out that Wan, the district education officer, was once a teacher in the school and got the only quota to become a certified teacher. Before he leaves, he gives the harp to the headmaster’s teacher who did not make it. The narrative revolves around only a small number of characters, but the careful handling of subtle conflicts and a humane solution gives the text nobility. With the success of “Phoenix Harp,” Liu Xingtong extended it into a three-part novel, The Sky Walkers (Tianxing zhe, 天行者, 2009). In the process, Liu Xinglong skillfully paces the rhythm of the narration, while, at the same time, sensitively depicting the interactions of the teachers to capture their dignity and humanity. The novel won the Mao Dun Literary Prize in 2008.

Dealing with the Past: Historical novels Liu Xinglong does not often write about the Cultural Revolution; the novel Dark Sky (Mitian, 弥天, 2002) stands out as an exception. It is derived from his work experience at a reservoir. Set in the early 1970s, the narrative revolves around the oppressive atmosphere in a small town. The most horrifying scene in the narrative is the execution of a female Zhiqing—who was alleged to have written a manuscript challenging the dominant ideology of the time—and the crowd’s violent treatment of her body—they step heavily on her body until her fetus is expelled. The so-called revolutionary masses have turned into self-appointed executioners. Liu Xinglong depicts the maturity of the protagonist Wen through his eyewitness account of the horrors, his labor at the reservoir, and his long romantic attachment to the female broadcaster. Liu Xinglong showed a great artistic leap in his 1.1-million-word historical novel The Saintly Gate to Heaven (Sheng Tianmenkou, 圣天门口), a title with religious overtones. He began writing it in 1999 and did not complete it until 2005, after six revisions and having abandoned 200,000 words. The novel consists of three volumes, each with five chapters. It progresses with a well-paced rhythm, giving the impression that the author lets the plot

develop naturally in the course of history, instead of imposing a direction. It deals with two rival families, Xue (雪) and Hang (杭), in the town Gate to Heaven (Tianmenkou, 天门口), from the early 20th century to the late 1960s. More than 50 characters are depicted. Liu Xinglong has transcended his realistic writing by bringing in two themes: the role of Christianity in human life and a critique on the use of violence in the name of the revolution. Grandma Mei (梅外婆), a devoted Christian, embodies the universal values of kindness and forgiveness. Her belief passes on to her daughter Xue Ning (雪柠) and other members of the Xue family. By contrast, Hang Jiufeng (杭九枫) is the embodiment of evil and continuously brings disaster to the Xue family, especially during the Cultural Revolution. Liu Xinglong critiques the CCP’s violent rectification campaign in the early stage of the revolution and, after it came to power, the use of violence to maintain its rule. The patriotic entrepreneur Liu Ziwen (柳子文), who returns from Hong Kong, is stripped of his fortune and persecuted until he kills himself. The protagonists Liu Zimo (柳子墨) and his wife Xue Ning are killed during the Cultural Revolution, despite giving up all their wealth to the government. Fu Puxi (傅浦西), the idealistic revolutionary in the town, embodies the tragic irony of history. Despite his long-term devotion to the party, he is bitterly attacked during the Cultural Revolution. Before his death, he is questioned by four local women: “Old Fu, before you came, our life was difficult. Since you came, our life was even more difficult” (p. 384). Liu Xinglong uses Fu’s answer to convey his deconstructive critique—Fu admits his ignorance, he apologizes to the Xue family, and he confesses that he has been misguided by idealism and the use of violence in revolution. Before he can say any more, an explosion occurs, and, in the confusion, symbolically, he is crushed under the escaping crowd. Liu Xinglong is an excellent storyteller. He has written more than ten novels and many novellas, whereas his output of short stories is relatively small. Liu Xinglong has made a contribution to contemporary Chinese fiction in two respects: first, he has broadened the subject matter of rural fiction to portray, in particular, village and smalltown cadres in a different light and lay bare the complexity of low-level official politics and their problems in the current system; second, in his historical novel, he has incorporated important reflections on the significance of religion and


condemnation of the use of violence in the name of revolution.

Notes 1. In Liu Xinglong, Huangye suifeng (荒 野 随 风 , Wilderness in the Wind), Liu Xinglong wenji (刘醒 龙文集, Collected Works of Liu Xinglong). Beijing: Qunzhong chubanshe, 1997, pp. 1–238. 2. Cheng Shizhou (程世洲), Xuemai zai xiangcun yice: Liu Xinglong lun (血脉在乡村一侧:刘醒龙论, Abiding by the Village: On Liu Xinglong). Wuhan: Hubei renmin chubanshe, 2000, p. 64.

Translations into English “The Statue” (trans. Caroline Mason). China Perspectives (Hong Kong), 23 (May–June 1999): 74–78. “Phoenix Harp” (trans. Scudder Smith). Chinese Literature, 1 (Spring 1996): 5–72. “The Village Party Secretary” (trans. Daniel B. Wright). Chinese Literature, 2 (Summer 1993): 3–62. “The Residents’ Committee” (trans. Caroline Mason), China Perspectives, 22, March–April (1999): 68–72.

LIU XINWU (刘心武, B. 1942) Pioneer of Scar Literature Liu Xinwu’s short story “The Class Teacher” (Banzhuren, 班主任, also translated as “Class Counselor”), which appeared in the November 1977 issue of People’s Literature (Renmin wenxue) marked the beginning of the thaw after Mao. The shock and ramifications it generated were similar to those of Ehrenburg’s The Thaw after Stalin’s death (1953). Across the nation, heated discussions appeared in newspapers and cultural sectors. The radio play based on the story further popularized the work. Liu Xinwu received thousands of letters from readers. For a short story to arouse such a great reaction is itself an indication of the severity of the situation. Liu Xinwu’s output grew in quantity and quality over the next three decades. With a sharp perception of society, a deep sense of mission to speak for the people, and an eloquent writing style, he became a representative writer of social criticism. Liu Xinwu was born in Chengdu (成 都 ), Sichuan Province, where his father worked for the tax office. Since his family moved to Beijing in 1950, he has never left it for more than three months. Liu Xinwu attended elementary school and middle school in Beijing. At 16, he published

his first work, an essay on Soviet writer Boris Lavrenyev’s novel The Forty-first.1 That most his stories are set in Beijing makes him a representative writer of the “Beijing School” (along with writers such as Deng Youmei, 邓 友 梅 , Chen Jiangong, 陈建功, and Wang Shuo, 王朔). Younger than the Rightists and older than the Zhiqing, Liu Xinwu belongs to the “in-between” generation who had their childhood in the Republican period and, in their formative years, were heavily influenced by Russian and Soviet literature.

The “Problem Stories”: A call for humanity After Liu Xinwu graduated from Beijing Normal School, he taught at Number 13 Middle School from 1961 to 1976. Before the onset of the Cultural Revolution, Liu Xinwu had published up to 70 mini-stories and essays, most of which, as he later acknowledged, were “childish” and “embarrassing” (p. 149).2 From 1974 to 1976, he wrote a handful of short stories, a novella on children’s literature, and a film script (which was never made into a film). In early 1976, he was transferred to be an editor at the Beijing People’s Press (later renamed Beijing Press), where he had the advantage of sensing that things were beginning to change. Reflecting on the devastation caused by “cultural dictatorship” (p. 148) and unable to bear it any longer, in summer 1977, he began conceiving the short story “The Class Teacher.”3 “The Class Teacher” became a sensation overnight because it came out at a time when the general populace was looking for channels to express its long-suppressed questions, frustration, and suffering. The story is crude both by the author’s later standards and by the writing standards of the early 1980s. Its value rests on the author’s moral courage in speaking up. It is focalized through Mr Zhang (张), class teacher of the third year at a junior middle school. The plot focuses on two typical students brought up under the extremely dogmatic education system during the Cultural Revolution. Song Baoqi (宋宝琦), the hooligan son of a poor worker’s family, is below the standards of his grade. Xie Huimin (谢慧敏), ostensibly an outstanding student cadre of the Communist Youth League, behaves like a robot, only reading books from the approved list. Though both are from so-called “good” class backgrounds, they are victims of the Cultural Revolution without their knowing it. The most balanced student,


Shi Hong (石红), is from a teacher’s family (which suggests the positive image of intellectuals). At the end, the teacher’s call to save the children is reminiscent of the same in Lu Xun’s (鲁迅) Diary of a Madman (Kuangren reji, 狂人日记, 1918). The success of “The Class Teacher” gave Liu Xinwu encouragement to probe different problems in society, thus reviving the genre of “problem stories” (wenti xiaoshuo, 问题小说) of the early decades of the 20th century. As more and more “problem stories” appeared, they became a useful force in the new political leadership’s drive to “rectify chaos and return to the proper” (boluan fanzheng, 拨乱反正) after the fall of the Gang of Four. In the fictional works of the 1950s, romantic love had to be accompanied by devotion to socialist construction. During the Cultural Revolution, the depiction of romantic love was diminished to a point that only revolutionary friendship between the hero and heroine was depicted, at best. Liu Xinwu’ story “The Place of Love” (Aiqing de weizhi, 爱情的位置, Shiyue, 1, 1978) broke this taboo. It calls for open recognition that love is an important part of life, that love is not pettybourgeois sentiment, and that love and revolution are not mutually exclusive. Meng Xiaoyu (孟小羽 ), a factory worker, is in love with a cook, but she is afraid that it might not be a proper thing to do. She is enlightened by the party embodied in Auntie Feng (冯姨), an old revolutionary who still writes to her lover as if he were alive (he was killed during the war working as an underground communist and is thus a hero). The story was made into a radio play and became a heated topic of discussion. Liu Xinwu received 7,000 letters after its publication (p. 176).4 Liu Xinwu began to expand his themes, and with less authorial intrusion. The short story “I Love Every Green Leaf” (Wo ai meiyipian lüye, 我 爱每一片绿叶, Renmin wenxue, 6, 1979) calls for respect for individuality. The narrative revolves around the repeated invasion of the privacy of an outstanding teacher by school colleagues. In their eyes, he is weird because he is single, he lives alone, and he has a woman’s photograph in his drawer. The narrative tension mounts during the Cultural Revolution, when their suspicion turns into accusations and violence against him. After the Cultural Revolution, he returns to work, behaving the same way. The omniscient narrator aptly closes the tale without giving any explanation about his behavior, but suggests metaphorically

that, as every leaf is different, so is every human being. The novella “The Wish” (Ruyi, 如意, Shiyue, 3, 1980; film, 1982) critiques the notion of class struggle and its damage to humanity. The protagonist, Shi Yihai (石义海), is a service person in a middle school. His name, literally meaning “stone– righteous–sea,” suggests his compassionate personality. During the Cultural Revolution, he risks his own political life to cover the dead body of a capitalist lying in the rain with a piece of plastic. This humane action puts the teachers to shame, the I-narrator being one of them. Liu Xinwu’s I-narrator no longer plays the role of enlightener as before, but is marginalized as a mere observer and occasional confidant of the protagonist. Central to the plot is the protagonist’s lifelong but unconsummated love for a woman of Manchu nobility origin, classified as a “class enemy.” The jade ornament found after his death is both symbolic and ironic. It symbolizes pure love. Its literal meaning, “Ruyi, as you wish,” ironically points out how the brutally divided class society thwarts individual life. Liu Xinwu’s short story “Black Walls” (Hei qiang, 黑墙, written in summer 1982) is told with black humor. The narrator does not intrude with didacticism, but lets things evolve through the dialogues of the characters. Set in a Beijing compound, the story begins at 7:30 in the morning, when several residents become nervous that the protagonist, another resident, is painting his walls and ceiling black. Some think they should report it to the public security office; some think they should just go to talk him out of it; and some do not want to take sides, for fear of getting into trouble. The discussion goes on for one and a half hours, until their paranoia is deflated by a tenyear-old, who says, “No big deal at all, uncle Zhou is simply painting his own walls, not your walls, why are you talking about him here?” (p. 8).5 The ending is crisp and sharp. The child, uncontaminated by political movements, sees things simply and naturally, compared with the paranoid adults.

Beijing Streets, Alleys, Past and Present Liu Xinwu is basically a social-moralist writer. The novella “Overpass” (Liti jiaochaqiao, 立体交 叉桥, Shiyue, 2, 1981) deals poignantly with how a family relationship is crushed by overcrowded living conditions in the 1980s. The narrator compassionately and perceptively enters the minds


of each character of the Hou (侯, which is a homonym of Hou [候, waiting]) family. Seven people from three generations share two small rooms under one “hukou” (户口, resident registration). All the action takes place in one day, with one central focus: how to juggle life within the limited space. The overpass is a metaphor of modernization. It symbolizes their hope. If it is ever built, the family could be allocated a larger place, provided they succeed in bribing the right person. What caused their predicament is strongly suggested: the deprivation of freedom of mobility by the political system. In 1985, Liu Xinwu’s two feature novellas, “Zooming in on May 19, 1985” (5.19 changjingtou, 519, 长镜头, Renmin wenxue, 7, 1985) and “Bus Aria” (Gonggong qiche yongtandiao, 公共汽 车咏叹调, Renmin wenxue, 12, 1985), aroused attention. Both novellas deal with urban people’s moods and values in reaction to China’s fast changes. “Zooming in on May 19, 1985” is based on a riot in 1985 after the Chinese soccer team lost a game to a Hong Kong team. The narrator does not dwell on the game itself, but focuses on one day in the life of an ordinary youth and his intense feelings of failure in society and in love. These all culminate in his participation in the post-game riot. The narrator also probes the underlying psychology of the Chinese people, who tend to equate victory and defeat in sports with the success/honor or failure/shame of their nation. “Bus Aria” focuses on a morning street scene in Beijing, where impatient passengers get into a conflict with the bus driver and conductor. The omniscient narrator probes into the deeper causes of the conflict, such as family issues, economic pressures, and social injustices. Liu Xinwu gained greater recognition with his first novel, Bell and Drum Tower (Zhong gu lou, 钟鼓楼, Dangdai, 5–6, 1984; eight-part TV series, 1986), which won the Mao Dun Literary Prize (1985). Set in an alley by the Bell Tower and Drum Tower in Beijing, the novel represents a big step forward in Liu Xinwu’s artistic development while maintaining his sense of history and social concern. The novel is conceived in what he calls a “flower petal structure” (p. 7), which extends in profusion from the core.6 The kernel event is the wedding banquet of Mr Xue’s (薛) son, which consists of three rounds, each separated by two hours, and each round including two tables of guests. Using the ongoing wedding banquet as a key action, the omniscient narrator delineates the

characters and their relationships with each other. The residents invited to the banquet are from diverse professions: opera singer, magazine editor, physician, shoemaker, and prostitute. They are joined by those coming to serve: a cook, a country girl, a driver, a poet, an editor, and office workers. A humorous episode is added when a party crasher comes to eat and steal, and thus, the police come too. The novel thus constitutes a microscopic Chinese society on one day: December 12, 1982. There is no central character, or characters, but a constellation of characters. If there are any, they are the Bell Tower and the Drum Tower, which have witnessed the events and the people, from antiquity (Song dynasty) to the present (1982). A decade or so later, Liu Xinwu published two more novels using the character “Lou” (楼, Tower) in the titles, namely The Four Archways (Si pailou, 四牌楼, 1993) and Phoenix Tower (Qi feng lou, 栖凤楼, 1996). The Four Archways is semi-autobiographical. The narrator’s (Liu Xinwu’s disguise) desire to write a novel about his elder sister forms the main impetus of the plot. The narrative unfolds, in an intimate manner, the fates of the narrator’s family members and relatives, friends, and classmates, from the Republican period to the 1980s, against the incessant political turmoil. Using I, you, and he, the narrator alternates the angle of viewing himself and those close to him. The viewpoint of a growing child alternates with the hindsight of the present narrator. As a physical landmark, the Four Archways had disappeared sometime in history, but the book the narrator wrote will not. This is by far the most lyrical and personal work by Liu Xinwu. (Glimpses of the fates of his family members had appeared in his 1988 book Private Album (Siren zhaoxiangbu, 私人照相簿, 1988).7 Phoenix Tower is Liu Xinwu’s serious attempt to find balance between the past and the present. It is set in the 1990s, when Chinese society was undergoing great material and cultural changes. Luxurious apartments, Western-style entertainment, and expensive cars had become objects of pursuit. Shallow cultural critics show off their knowledge by quoting Western names and fashionable “isms,” without knowing their real meaning. Yet, there is one thing they cannot forsake: their past memories, particularly what they did to others, and what was done to them, during the Cultural Revolution. The writer–protagonist, Yong Wanghui (雍望 辉), is an observer, a passive confidant, and a


marginalized figure; he lives alone in a studio, and his wife never appears. The narrative constantly shifts back to the Cultural Revolution through Yong’s memory. He is haunted by the banging sound of the carpenter Master Huo (霍师傅), hammering a board over the dormitory window to turn it into a temporary prison. As a writer, he also acts as a bridge to the past, because people seek him out to tell stories of the Cultural Revolution, thus creating a Chinese-box structure—a story within a story. What happens to former power holders and victims is a historical irony. For instance, Master Zhong (钟师傅), former head of a revolution committee during the Cultural Revolution, is now (1990) an attendant in a hotel washroom. The carpenter, Master Huo, is now a collector of hammers who displays them in a museum (a sign of the past). The protagonist’s involvement in the making of the film Phoenix Tower takes him to a dimension of absurdity where the demarcation between reality and virtual reality (film) becomes blurred. Liu Xinwu’s satirical novel Disappearing Wind (Feng guo er, 风过耳, 1992; 12-part TV series, 1993)8 is a scathing satire on the literary circles, reminiscent of Wu Jingzi’s (吴敬梓, 1701–1754) The Scholars (Rulin waishi, 儒林外史) from the Qing dynasty. The novel begins with a one-page narration about an airplane crash, where famous writer Fang Tianqiong (方天穹) is on the list of victims. The main body of the text dramatically delineates the schemes of those connected to him— his wife, ex-wife, literary agents, and publishers —who want to take advantage of the writer’s “death” for their own benefit. The irony is that they cannot find the writer’s supposedly superb novel. Even more ironic (though somewhat contrived) is the fact that the writer was not on the flight, but had gone to complete his novel in a secluded place. Liu Xinwu is a prolific writer, even though his status was already secure with the publication of his first story. In the late 1990s, he became deeply interested in the classic novel Dream of the Red Chamber. His controversial books about the classic novel, such as Unlocking the Secret of the Dream of the Red Chamber by Liu Xinwu (Liu Xinwu jiemi Hongloumeng, 刘心武揭秘红楼梦, 2008), demonstrate his intellectual interest and literary knowledge. His vigorous argument that Qi Keqing (秦可卿), a female character in the Jia family, is a key to unlock the secrets of the novel

has merit. More impressive is his Liu Xinwu’s Sequel to the Dream of the Red Chamber (Liu Xinwu xu Hongloumeng, 刘心武续红楼梦, 2011), which is a 28-chapter sequel to the Dream of the Red Chamber (the last 40 chapters of which were believed to be written by Zhiyan Zhai [脂砚斋], a close friend of the author Cao Xueqin [曹雪芹], after the latter’s death). Liu Xinwu’s works embody every stage of the development of contemporary Chinese literature and society. It is admirable that he has been able to continuously reinvent himself, from a writer whose rhetoric was heavily influenced by Maospeak, to a writer capable of writing in an elegant manner in the tradition of Dream of the Red Chamber. Liu Xinwu’s literary career was smooth except for two events. He was made chief editor of People’s Literature in 1985, but he left the job briefly after the publication of Ma Jian’s (马健) controversial short story about Tibetans. He returned to work, but left his job again after the Tian’anmen Incident in 1989 and has since devoted himself to writing. He has been invited to visit many countries, and his works have been translated into many languages.

Notes 1. “Tan ‘Di sishi yi ge’ ” (谈“第四十一个”, On “The Forty First”). Dushu, 16, 1958. 2. “Guanyu ‘Banzhuren’ de huiyi” (关于“班主任”的回忆 , Recollection of “The Class Teacher”), in Liu Xinwu zishu (刘心武自述, In Liu Xinwu’s Own Words). Zhengzhou: Daxiang chubanshe, 2002, pp. 146–152. 3. Ibid. 4. “Feng zheng yifan xuan” (风正一帆悬, Sailing with the Wind), in Liu Xinwu zishu (In Liu Xinwu’s Own Words), pp. 174–179. 5. Liu Xinwu wenji, vol. 5, pp. 1–8. 6. In his letter to critic Chen Juntao (陈骏涛), “ ‘Zhong gu lou’ de jiegou yu xushu yuyan de xuanze” (“钟鼓 楼”的结构与叙述语言的选择, The Choice of Structure and Narrative Language of “Bell and Drum Tower”). Beijing Shiyuan xuebao, 2, 1986, pp. 6–9. 7. Published in Liu Xinwu wenji, vol. 6, pp. 3–209. 8. Published in Liu Xinwu wenji, vol. 6, pp. 389–657.

Translations into English “Awake, My Brother!”, in Geremie Barmé and Bennett Lee (trans. and eds.), The Wounded: New Stories of the Cultural Revolution. Hong Kong: Joint Publishing, 1979, pp. 179–204. “Class Counselor,” in The Wounded, ibid., pp. 147–178; also “The Teacher” (trans. Fanqin Yu), in Prize-


winning Stories from China, 1978–1979. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1981, pp. 3–26; “The Class Teacher,” Zhihua Fang (trans. and ed.), Chinese Short Stories of the Twentieth Century: An Anthology in English. New York and London: Garland, 1995, pp. 85–120. “The Place of Love,” Eastern Horizon, 18, 6, June (1979): 37–48. “I Love Every Green Leaf” (trans. Betty Ting), in PrizeWinning Stories from China 1978–1979. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1981, pp. 455–473. “Ruyi” (trans. Richard Rigby), Renditions, 25 (1986): 53–85. “Overpass” (trans. Michael Crook), in Helen F. Siu and Zelda Stern (eds.), Mao’s Harvest: Voices from China’s New Generation. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983, pp. 30–89. “Black Walls,” in Geremie Barmé and John Minford (eds.), Seeds of Fire: Chinese Voices of Conscience. New York: Hill & Wang, 1988, pp. 19–29. Black Walls and Other Stories (Geremie Barmé and Don Cohn [trans. and eds.]). Hong Kong: Chinese University of Hong Kong, 1990. Contains “Bus Aria,” “The Woman with Shoulder-length Hair,” “The Wish,” “Zooming in on 19 May 1985,” and “White Teeth.” “Reflections in the Hot Springs of Hakone: China, Our Impoverished, Trouble-Ridden Motherland” (trans. Howard Goldblatt), in Helmut Martin and Jeffrey Kinkley (eds.), Modern Chinese Writers: Self-Portrayals. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1992, pp. 48–52. “Bell and Drum Tower,” in Chia-ning Chen (ed.), Themes in Contemporary Chinese Literature. Beijing: New World Press, 1993, pp. 93–204.

his works and directed by internationally known director Feng Xiaogang (冯小刚), made him a household name. Liu Zhenyun was born in the city seat of Yanjin (延津), Hunan Province, in 1958. Because of the Great Famine, his maternal grandmother took him back to her village when he was eight months old. Like Mo Yan (莫言), Yan Lianke (阎 连科) and Zhou Daxin (周大新), Liu Zhenyun joined the PLA to escape the fate of being a peasant. He was in the army from 1973 to1978, stationed in the Gebi Desert. After discharge from the army, he was assigned to teach in a village middle school. In late 1978, he came first in his province in the university entrance examination and entered Beijing University, majoring in Chinese literature. After graduation, he worked as an editor on the Peasants Daily (Nongmin ribao, 农民日报). In order to improve his writing technique, he studied part time at the Lu Xun Literary Institute, which is located in the vicinity of his newspaper office. Liu Zhenyun has used Yanjin to build his fictional world, just like Mo Yan’s use of Gaomi, Yan Lianke’s of Yaogou, and Zhou Daxin’s of Basin. Liu Zhenyun, however, differs from them in that he is equally at home writing about urban themes. He writes with an ironical distance about both the rural and the urban with deep insights, particularly into the pursuit of power. He is a recognized writer of New Realism, but has gone beyond that in many different ways, as demonstrated in his fiction after the mid-1990s.

Peasant Youths and Their Predicaments

LIU ZHENYUN (刘震云, B. 1958) Piercing through Officialdom and History Liu Zhenyun is among the best-known writers from a peasant–soldier background. From the mid-1980s to the first decade of the 21st century, he has continued to impress his readers with fictional works covering a variety of subjects, ranging from the peasant–soldiers’ predicaments, village feuds, and famine to the politics of officialdom and urban life under economic reform. The films Cell Phone (Shouji, 手机, 2003) and Back to 1942 (Wengu 1942, 温故 1942, 2012), based on

Liu Zhenyun’s compassionate concern for the peasants is evident in his early stories. If there is a common enemy that his characters have to confront, it is poverty. Poverty can destroy human dignity and relationships. In “One Night in the Melon Field” (Guadi yiye, 瓜地一夜, 1979),1 a poverty-stricken, honest man is punished for stealing a melon for his thirsty, ailing mother. The novella “A Guilty Person” (Zuiren, 罪人, 1985)2 is a depressing tale about how poverty destroys brotherhood and women’s dignity. Two peasant brothers, too poor to attract wives, go through great pain in their pursuit. The elder brother finally gets a wife thanks to the younger brother, who pays for the woman’s medical costs for her sick father. However, the brothers soon split up,


because of the incest committed by the younger brother and the sister-in-law. The younger brother leaves home with a deep sense of guilt. The wife he eventually gets turns out to be a young mother escaping from hunger in Sichuan Province. That the younger brother chooses to forgive her is consistent with his personality, which reflects Liu Zhenyun’s humanitarianism. Liu Zhenyun’s writing career took a big leap in 1987 with the publication of two Bildungsromans, “Pagoda Depot” (Tapu, 塔铺; also translated as “Tapu Township,” Renmin wenxue, 1, 1987) and “New Soldiers” (Xin binglian, 新兵连, Qingnian wenxue, 1, 1988). “Tapu” depicts poignantly how rural poverty, or social inequality, shatters innocence, idealism, and love. Tapu is a real place, where Liu Zhenyun taught middle school after discharge from the army. The characters are drawn from the prototypes of his students. A group of students who have failed the university entrance examination come to study for the following year’s exam. The cheerful atmosphere created by their arrival is soon destroyed by many conflicts particularly the disparity between the poor and the rich—the cadre’s son gets picked up every week by a chauffeur, whereas the poor peasant student has no food for lunch. Poverty soon devours the pure love between the firstperson narrator, a discharged soldier, and the female student Li Ailian (李爱莲). The tempo of the narrative speeds up when Li Ailian is suddenly called home because her father has been hospitalized. Before departure, she tells him that she will sit the exam where her father is. The climax occurs when a classmate accidentally reveals to the protagonist that Li Ailian has married the man who paid her father’s medical expenses. The story won an award in the National Best Short Stories competition and was made into a film in 2007. Liu Zhenyun’s “New Soldiers” is a captivating Bildungsroman of the newly recruited peasant soldiers and their endeavor to adapt to the harsh discipline and competitiveness of army life. Their aspiration is to stay in the army or, better still, move to the city. In their fierce competition for recognition, the ugly aspects of human nature, such as jealousy and betrayal, are revealed. The narrative closes with a cruel revelation. Wang Di (王滴), who came top in his assignment through dark scheming, is ironically given the job of nursing the paralyzed father of a corrupt military officer, a job that shatters his heroic dream.

Pears and Bean Curd: Urban life and New Realism Liu Zhenyun’s urban experience in Beijing became a timely source for his New Realist fiction, as exemplified in his two novellas “The Work Unit” (Danwei, 单位; also translated as “The Unit,” Beijing wenxue, 2, 1989) and “Chicken Feathers Everywhere” (Yi di jimao, 一地鸡毛; also translated as “Ground Covered by Chicken Feathers,” Xiaoshuojia, 1, 1991). Drawing from his own experience, Liu Zhenyun creates a fresh character, Xiao Lin (小林, an everyman surnamed Lin), a university graduate of rural origin, who tries to make a career and raise a family in Beijing. Xiao Lin is metaphorically a double outsider, eager to be accepted by the urban setting in general and by his work unit in particular. Defamiliarization thus plays an important part in the development of Xiao Lin’s character. In “The Work Unit,” Xiao Lin is forced to take sides. His colleagues, in order to climb the ladder of officialdom, often use biting remarks, fake illness, spread rumors, and expose illicit relations. Every ugly scheme reveals to Xiao Lin a dark aspect of reality and erodes his innocence and morality. Finally, in order to obtain a room for his family, he cannot but abandon his principles. The narrative begins with him symbolically dividing up the pears (fen li, 分梨, which is homonym of “to divide,” 分离) among his colleagues and closes with the same activity, suggesting there will be no end to his mind-splitting situation. “Chicken Feathers Everywhere,” a representative work of New Realism, goes further to depict Xiao Lin’s crushed dreams. The narrative presents a microcosm of urban life at the street level. It begins early one morning, when Xiao Lin wakes up to find that the bean curd (a sign of everyday reality) bought the day before has turned sour (gone bad) because he forgot to put it in the refrigerator. It foreshadows the troubles that he has to face. Despite a meager income, they still have to give gifts to those who might be able to help the wife transfer to a closer workplace—she spends four hours everyday on the road to work. Finding a good kindergarten poses another challenge. Worse still, Xiao Lin, as a university graduate, is the pride of his father, who often sends villagers to ask him for help in all sorts of matters, which upsets his wife. A dramatic turn occurs when an arrogant water-meter inspector suddenly brings them big gifts and asks Xiao Lin to speed up an application for his home-county officials.


The idealistic Xiao Lin, who despises bribery, now merges with the muddy flow.

Officialdom: Allegories and cultural critique Liu Zhenyun, who understands village politics well, wrote a series of allegorical tales of cultural critique. In the satirical novella “The Official Circle” (Guanchang, 官场, Renmin wenxue, 4, 1989), a county official has recently been promoted to be a vice-commissioner, but the position he has yearned for ironically turns out to be a trap. He has to handle the complex relations between the provincial and local leaderships, which drive him to a mental breakdown. In the intricate novella “The Officials” (Guan ren, 官人, Qingnian wenxue, 4, 1991), a reshuffling of positions ignites fierce competition among the eight division heads. Liu Zhenyun creates a network of the ugly faces of people in power wanting more power. In the process, they engage in smearing, slandering, and betrayals. Rather than putting their energy into their duties, they waste energy and talent on hurting each other. Liu Zhenyun’s allegorical novella “Village Head” (Touren, 头人, Qingnian wenxue, 1, 1989) delineates, using the technique of repetition, the pursuit of power at the village level through decades of conflicts between the Shen (沈) clan and the Song (宋) clan. When the Shen clan becomes village head, they give the Song clan a hard time, and vice versa. Their competition even involves murder, torture, and kidnapping. After the CCP victory, political labeling becomes a tool of revenge. All the members of the Shen clan, who make salt for a living, are now labeled poor peasants and they are the ruling class, whereas the members of the Song clan who own land are labeled landlords and are persecuted. The old title of village head is changed to party secretary, thus posing a question about to the significance of the communist revolution. In 1991, Liu Zhenyun published his first novel, Homeland, Under Heaven, the Past (Guxiang tianxia huanghua, 故乡天下黄花, Zhongshan, 1–2, 1991), which is an enlarged version of “Village Head” (Touren, 头人, 1989). The narrative follows the struggles between the Sun (孙) and Li (李) families and their antecedents, from the late Qing dynasty to the 1980s. After so much bloodshed, there is no sign of improvement. Through these tales, Liu Zhenyun reiterates that there has been

no change in Chinese mentality, despite so-called revolution or party ideology. Liu Zhenyun’s second novel, Hometown, Location, Legends (Guxiang xiangchu liuchuan, 故乡相处流传 , 1993) is a postmodernist work replete with parodies and farcical conflations of the past and present, historical figures with fictional characters, the rural and the urban, the modern and the backward. For instance, the fictional character Liu (刘) is portrayed as a foot massager of historical ruler Cao Cao (曹操) from the Three Kingdom period. Zhu Yuanzhang (朱元 璋), first emperor of the Ming dynasty, speaks in communist rhetoric to his subordinates. The mixing and conflation contribute to the carnivalesque effect of the narrative. Liu Zhenyun’s huge novel Home Noodles and Flowers (Guxiang mian yu huaduo, 故乡面 与花朵, 1998, 4 vols.) is perhaps one the longest novels ever written in Chinese literature: 2.2 million Chinese characters. It represents Liu Zhenyun’s ambitious project to dig deeper into his consciousness and experiences and render them in a carefree manner.

Film Adaptations and Other Novels Entering the 21st century, Liu Zhenyun has extended his work into film-script writing. The popular film and the subsequent three-part novel Cell Phone (Shouji, 手机, 2003) brought him fame. The main part of the novel is a dramatic morality tale set in a modern city. Yan Shouyi (严守一, whose name literally means “Truly faithful to one,” ironically), a hypocritical TV program host, uses his cell phone to contact his lover. When his wife discovers the secret affair, she divorces him. He goes to live with his lover, but again has a secret affair with another woman. While he thinks he is smart enough to be able to keep two women simultaneously, the reality is that he lives in fear. Human relations do not necessarily improve with the modern ways of communication. Also made into a film was his gripping novel My Name is Liu Yuejin (Wo de mingzi jiao Liu Yuejin, 我的名字叫刘跃进; also translated as The Cook, the Crook, and the Real Estate Tycoon, 2007). The narrative depicts the extraordinary ordeals of a cook, Liu Yuejin (刘跃进), who has come from a small town. One day, Liu spots Yang (杨) running away from the police with a purse. Liu picks up the purse dropped by Yang, the thief, and finds in it a USB memory stick, which


happens to have records of the sexual activities of two corrupt officials. The tempo of the narrative quickens from this point onward. Liu is wanted by four parties: the police, the gangsters, the corrupt officials, and the owner. Liu uses his peasant wisdom to escape from harm, whereas the others, including private detectives and heads of secret societies, are arrested or killed. Liu’s extraordinary journey to retrieve his own property leads to the exposure of a society filled with greed, violence, and indifference. In 2012, Liu Zhenyun’s novella “Back to 1942” (Wengu 1942, 1994) was made into a film by internationally known director Feng Xiaogang (冯小刚). Presented with first-person narration, it is a serious investigative feature story bringing up moral questions concerning the horrible famine in 1942, in Henan Province. The images of the famine and cannibalism are startling. The urgent on-site reports by the American journalist contrast sharply with the reluctant and dubious attitudes of the Nationalist officials. The powerful narration reminds one of the Great Famine (1959–1961) under Mao, which is still a taboo area in China. Liu Zhenyun’s 2009 novel One Word Worth Ten Thousand Words (Yiju ding wanju, 一句顶万 句), a winner of the Mao Dun Literary Prize, marks a great departure from his earlier works in terms of breadth and depth. It represents the maturity of Liu Zhenyun’s writing, with his succinct rhetoric and an unhurried and calm narrative manner. It consists of two parts: Part 1 is entitled “Out of Yanjin,” and Part 2 “Entering Yanjin,” forming a mirror image of each other. Part 1 traces the growth of the three sons of the Yang (杨) family, which makes bean curd for a living. Yang’s second son, Yang Baishun (杨百顺), the protagonist, leaves home because he hates his father. His numerous encounters with a large number of characters of different professions and local customs paint a rich picture of small-town life during the Republican period. Yang Baishun is given the name Wu Moxi (吴摩西) after becoming a disciple of an Italian missionary, a symbolic encounter with the West. Unable to communicate with his wife, he leaves home again, ostensibly looking for his five-year-old stepdaughter Qiaoling (巧玲), who has been kidnapped, but he is in fact looking for someone with whom he can communicate. He is no Moses in a religious sense, but an ordinary person wanting to live a life of dignity. There is a lapse of 70 years between the two parts. Part 2 depicts Niu Aiguo’s (牛爱国) unhappy

marriage and his various encounters on the road as a truck driver, presenting a panoramic picture of post-Mao China. His mother is none other than Moxi’s lost stepdaughter Qiaoling, who has been sold several times after being kidnapped. After her death, to fulfill her dream, Niu Aiguo embarks on a journey back to Yanjin. He is not really looking for the person who sent his mother a letter eight years ago, but, like Wu Moxi, for someone with whom he can communicate. To Wu Moxi and Niu Aiguo, words do not mean anything if they do not lead to communication; on the other hand, one word equals ten thousand words if it communicates (hence, the title). The phrase from the Italian priest (in Part 1), “to know where you are from, and where you are going,” resounds throughout the text. The novel is not only about the journeys of Wu Moxi and NiuAiguo, but also about human beings coming and going in the historic tapestry. In the farcical novel I Am Not Pan Jinlian (Wo bushi Pan Jinlian, 我不是潘金莲, 2012; also translated as I Did Not Kill My Husband, 2014), Liu Zhenyun uses a female as the central character for the first time. Li Ailian (李爱莲 ), a stubborn peasant woman, is pregnant with her second child, which is against the one-child policy. In order to avoid punishment and to keep the child, she and her husband pretend to have a divorce. By the time she gives birth to a daughter, her husband has married somebody else. This turn of events triggers a series of actions—all rooted in the unwelcome one-child policy. The entire narrative is about her continuous attempt, over 20 years, to sue her husband to prove that the divorce was illegal and that she is not a Pan Jinlian (潘金莲, a licentious woman in the classical novels All Men Are Brothers and Golden Lotus). It turns out that, to prove that the divorce was false, they would have to marry again. This would also mean that her ex-husband would have to divorce his new wife. Regarding the case as a nuisance, the local officials detain her. She has no choice but to go all the way to appeal in the capital. Absurdly, Li Ailian sneaks into Beijing and arouses attention by sitting in the public area during the People’s Congress. Nothing can stop her; she only stops after her ex-husband dies. Liu Zhenyun continues to express his critical and compassionate views about the rural and the urban with his succinct narrative style and his sometimes obvious, sometimes hidden narrating self. Looking back, however, one must admit that his early works about rural soldiers are still the


freshest and most heart-rending, and his realistic works are revealing. His recent novels could be shorter and less wordy. Liu Zhenyun’s works have appeared in many languages.

Notes 1. Collected in Liu Zhenyun wenji (刘 震 云 文 集 , Collected Works of Liu Zhenyun). Hangzhou: Jiangsu wenyi chubanshe, 1996, pp. 1–9. 2. Ibid., pp. 73–142.

Translations into English “Pagoda Depot” (trans. David Kwan), Chinese Literature, Fall (1990): 94–116. “The Unit” (trans. Paul White), Chinese Literature, Spring (1994): 62–130. The Corridors of Power. Beijing: Chinese Literature Press, 1994. Ground Covered with Chicken Feathers and Other Selected Writings. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 2009. “One Word Worth Ten Thousand Words” (excerpt; trans. Jane Weizhen Pan and Martin Merz). Pathlight: New Chinese Writing, 1 (2011): 42–50. Cell Phone: A Novel (trans. Howard Goldblatt). Portland, ME: MerwinAsia, 2011. I Did Not Kill my Husband: A Novel (trans. Howard Goldblatt and Sylvia Li-Chun Lin). New York: Arcade Publishing, 2014. The Cook, the Crook, and the Real Estate Tycoon (trans. Howard Goldblatt and Sylvia Lin-Chun Lin). New York: Arcade Publishing, 2015.

LU TIANMING (陆天明, B. 1944) Fearless Writer of Anti-corruption Fiction A writer of critical realism, Lu Tianming became a household name with the publication of his warmly received anti-corruption novel Heaven Above (Cangtian zai shang, 苍天在上, 1995) and television adaption (1996). Since then, Lu Tianming has continued to write anti-corruption novels, despite harassment and threats. Why is Lu Tianming so determined to write about anti-corruption, which could have caused him political trouble? How did he change from writing about sent-down youths of the 1960s in Xinjiang to what he writes now? A glimpse at his youth experience may shed some light on how he became who he is now.

Lu Tianming strikes one as upright, indignant, and idealistic, with a strong sense of mission. These qualities had developed in him since his teenage years. He was born in Kunming, Yunnan Province, and grew up in a poor district in Shanghai. His father died of tuberculosis when he was ten years old, leaving his mother to shoulder the responsibility of bringing up four children. Lu Tianming published his first piece of writing when he was 12. As an active member of the Communist Youth League, at 14, he volunteered to go to Anhui Province, “to become a cultured peasant,” in response to the campaign to mobilize urban youth to go to the countryside. The first place he went was a poor county at the foot of Huangshan (Yellow Mountain), where he worked as a peasant and, later, as a primary-school teacher of students of his own age and even older. During the Great Famine, he was so undernourished that he became ill with pulmonary tuberculosis, which enabled him to return to Shanghai. After he recovered from illness, for a year and a half, he worked as a volunteer in the Communist Youth League in the morning and then would walk for an hour to the Shanghai Public Library, where he systematically read the well-known works of Russian literature. In half a year, he finished reading all the translated Russian novels on the shelves. This experience would later benefit his writing tremendously. During the early 1960s, another campaign was launched to send middle-school graduates into the countryside, though on a smaller scale compared with the nationwide Rustication Movement that started in 1968. As an activist in the Youth League, in 1963, Lu Tianming took up the task of mobilizing Shanghai youths to go to “support the construction of the borderland” (zhibian, 支边). He volunteered again by becoming one of the leaders of several thousand Shanghai youths in a Production and Construction Corps in Xinjiang. There, he worked in the fields with his fellow sentdown youths during the day and, to boost their spirit, he would tell stories in the evening. He did this so often that he developed skill in storytelling. In 1973, after reading the plays of Ibsen and Chekhov, in three days, he completed the four-act play Sailing Ten Thousand Miles (Yangfan wanli, 扬帆万里) to mobilize urban youths to go to the countryside. The propaganda play was performed in Urumqi, Lanzhou, Xian, Beijing, and other cities in Northeast China, after which he was recruited by the Central Broadcasting Culture Troupe. Being


able to transfer a family of four from Xinjiang to Beijing was very unusual at the time. Because of this, he was investigated after the fall of the Gang of Four. After Mao’s death, Lu Tianming went through a period of painful adjustment. He worked for a year in a steel factory and read whatever he could find to adapt to the new era.1 During the 1980s, when most Zhiqing fiction was written by those who went to the countryside in the late 1960s and 1970s, the lives of those rusticated in the early 1960s remained untouched. Lu Tianming’s writing filled this void. In the mid-1990s, when China’s economy was developing rapidly, and corruption became ubiquitous, he turned his attention to writing anti-corruption fiction. Lu Tianming’s fiction thus consists of two main categories: works set in Xinjiang, with an emphasis on the fates of the rusticated youths, and those concerning anti-corruption.

Rustication in Xinjiang in the 1960s Lu Tianming’s three novellas in his collection Wild Hemp Blossoms (Ye mahua, 野麻花, 1984) did not attract much attention. His other works of the early 1980s did not make a name for him either, owing to their plain characterization and uninteresting plots. Finally, in 1986, Lu Tianming published his first novel, The Sun over the Sangna Highland (Sangna gaodi de taiyang, 桑那高地的太 阳), which, as the first work to focus on sent-down youths sent to Xinjiang in the 1960s, aroused much attention. The novel is the Bildungsroman of an idealistic and revolutionary youth. It is focalized through Xie Ping (谢平), an active vice-secretary of a local Youth League and probationary party member, who is among the four or five entrusted to lead 5,000 Shanghai youths to Xinjiang (taken from Lu Tianming’s own experience). The narrative revolves around Xie Ping’s horrible and unjust treatment and his struggles to overcome the odds. The typical opponent is a military officer nicknamed Lao Yezi (老爷子, Old Grandpa), who controls the fates of the exiled youths. Xie Ping’s misfortune arises out of two incidents and exposes the dark side of the military farms. The first incident is that he calls a gathering for the disgruntled young people to express their feelings and views. The second is that he beats up a cadre who seduced Qi Jingfang (齐景芳), his secret love, who works as a chambermaid in the headquarters of the party organization. Xie Ping is banished to do

hard labor in Camel Circle (Luotuoquan, 骆驼圈), the remotest settlement, and his party membership application is permanently put on hold. He is thus doubly exiled, first from Shanghai to the Production and Construction Corps in Xinjiang, and then to the desolate Camel Circle. Parallel to Xie Ping’s misfortune is the sad degeneration of the idealistic and innocent Qi Jingfang, who uses her body to exchange for better living conditions. Throughout the narrative, the key image of the sun appears in many forms, carrying different functions and meanings: the setting sun suggests a dejected mood of the protagonist (p. 50); a high sun is associated with unbearable working conditions (pp. 66, 305). It also functions as a metaphor for youthful hope and vitality (p. 141). Lu Tianming felt particularly guilty, because he had been recruited to work in Beijing, but the others had no way of leaving. To express his feelings of guilt, he created an episode in which the protagonist, Xie Ping (who had mobilized many to Xinjiang), let his fellow sent-down youths beat him violently to vent their anger (pp. 236–237). Another expression of Lu Tianming’s remorse is that, when sent-down youths such as Qi Jingfang were in need of his help, Xie Ping (fictionalized Lu Xianming) lectured her with his so-called revolutionary doctrines.2 Despite its artistic shortcomings, such as the lack of subtlety and the omission of the Cultural Revolution from the narrative, the novel made a contribution to Zhiqing fiction in at least two aspects. Besides bringing to light the tragic fate of those sent to the borderland in the 1960s, it points out sharply the cruel fact that educated youths have fallen behind the times, thus leading to great loss of talent. In a significant episode, Xie Ping feels like a misfit after being allowed to return briefly to Shanghai after 14 years of absence. He is treated as an alien by his siblings. He realizes, “In the past fourteen years, he has disappeared from this drastically changing world . . . There is no place for him in this world. He has been outside all these drastic changes” (p. 276). His remark is echoed by another returnee who says, “All those years we went to the farm, did we do the right thing? Even though we didn’t get anything out of it, but was it right for cultured people to go to the peasantry?” (p. 279). In the novel Mud Sun (Niri, 泥日, 1992), which is also set in Xinjiang, Lu Tianming uses a defamliarization technique to depict the lives of three old soldiers and their families, encompassing more


than half a century of conflict, love, bloodshed, and death. In the saga The Tan Family (Mutu, 木凸, 1998), Lu Tianming manipulates the narrative angle and suspense to depict a prominent family through the rich protagonist’s complex relations with his beloved Shanghai beauty, in the Republic period. These two works, however, did not attract the attention he expected.

Anti-corruption Fiction and Television Drama Series When asked why he wrote anti-corruption fiction, Lu Tianming answered: For my generation, reality is not only reasonable, but also sacred, and those at the leadership particularly were regarded as representatives of loftiness and ideal. Once there appeared so much corruption and unbearable greed among them, we were shocked and devastated. I feel particularly anxious and alarmed, eager to say something, and felt that I must say something.3 He aimed to “speak up for the people” and write “Engaging Literature,” by which he meant, “to use literary creation to participate in and promote reform.”4 Another motive for this shift of subject was that he was frustrated by the lack of attention paid to his highbrow literary creations. Beginning in the mid-1990s, Lu Tianming turned his pen to writing anti-corruption fiction (fanfu xiaoshuo, 反 腐 小 说 ). While China’s economy was making rapid progress, so was the rate of corruption. Though Ke Yunlu (柯云路, b. 1946), in the early 1980s, had dealt with the topic in his novella “New Star” (Xinxing, 新星, 1983), it was Lu Tianming who popularized the genre after the 1990s. Before the best-selling novel Heaven Above (Cangtian zaishang, 苍天在上 , 1995) appeared, Lu Tianming’s 20-part television drama bearing the same title was already in production. The television drama’s reception was unprecedentedly high, with a rating reaching 40 percent,5 suggesting people’s hatred of corruption and their curiosity about the lifestyle of corrupt officials. Heaven Above contains most elements of a detective novel—two murders (the former mayor and the head of the public security bureau), a kidnap (of the former head of the anti-corruption bureau), mysterious disappearances (daughter of

the manager of a joint-venture car production company), and secret money dealings (the provincial secretary and his son). Yet it is more than a detective novel, because of the seriousness of the subject and the author’s sense of urgency in exposing and critiquing corruption, as well as social problems. The author gives many positive attributes to the anti-corruption hero Huang Jiangbei (黄江北): he was a sent-down youth and a soldier (hence, tough and capable of enduring hardship); he has a degree in earth science from Qinghua University and a Master’s degree in philosophy from Beijing University (hence, an excellent combination of practical science and the arts). His lastminute appointment to be acting mayor of his native place, Zhangtai City, (章台市) sets off the plot. His immediate tasks are to investigate the mysterious deaths of the former mayor and the head of public security, and to speed up production of cars in Wanfang Automobile Production Company, a China–America joint venture. The author does not intend to create a perfect hero. Huang Jiangbei has his flaws and makes mistakes. He is angry that the poor students have to study in the open because the officials have spent the funds to build lavish office buildings. He orders those in charge to solve the problem in 24 hours, which actually oversteps the power of the local officials. In order to speed up car production, he allows the use of second-rate brake material. This indirectly leads to the fatal accident that ironically kills many poor students whom he had initially wanted to help. The plot progresses dramatically. Huang Jiangbei finds out that the villain behind the murder corruption scheme is none other than his superior, Vice-Provincial Secretary Tian (note: but never the provincial secretary, for censorship reasons). As the plot progresses, one sees how the corruption network functions in detail. The villain never appears in person in Zhangtai City, but his connections and influence are ubiquitous. His clansmen are in key positions, and his former colleagues still follow his orders. His eldest son even uses the Wanfang Automobile Production Company’s capital to invest in an airplane production factory in Russia. Even the hero’s former teacher, Lao Ge (老葛), a manager of the Wanfang Automobile Production Company, is helpless to do the right thing. The pattern of an idealistic intellectual going to a place to help people out of misery but, after going through many attempts and


frustrations, ultimately failing has appeared in many works by May Fourth writers. Heaven Above can be said to have inherited this pattern. By 2008, Lu Tianming had produced an “Anticorruption Fiction Series” that consists of four novels and their highly rated television adaptations. The most popular, Vast Snow without Trace (Daxue wuhen, 大雪无痕, 2000), was inspired by a real case in Harbin, as the author said: “The reason I wrote Vast Snow without Trace came from an anti-corruption hero in ordinary life, and from the danger and urgency of corruption itself.”6 The narrative also begins with a murder case. The victim, Zhang (张), a secretary of the municipal government, has been entrusted by a near-bankrupt factory to bribe the vice-provincial secretary (note: not the provincial secretary to avoid censorship). But Zhang, in turn, asks Zhou Mi (周密), the vice-mayor (note: not the mayor) of the city who is eager for promotion, to take the bribe to the recipient. As the bribery is exposed, the viceprovincial secretary denies any involvement. When Vice-Mayor Zhou Mi asks Zhang to testify, Zhang refuses. Zhou Mi murders Zhang. Lu Tianming traces the rise of Zhou Mi from being a poor villager to becoming vice-mayor; he also portrays a low-level public security officer who fights all odds to solve the case. The image of the snow resonates throughout the text, symbolizing “hidden truth,” “uncorrupt society,” and “lofty personality.” In 2002, Lu Tianming trod in a forbidden zone by directly portraying a provincial secretary, not just a vice-secretary as in his earlier novels.7 The novel Provincial Secretary (Shengwei shuji, 省 委书记) is set in an industrial city in Northeast China, where the economic reform of large-scale state-owned enterprises has been manipulated for individual benefit by high-level officials. Lu Tianming balanced his critique by creating an able provincial secretary, devoted to reform. Lu Tianming’s 2005 novel, High Latitude Trembling (Gao weidu zhenli, 高纬度震栗), takes the reader to Taoligen (陶里根), a town on the Sino-Russian border that opens up business relationships between the people of two nations. The narrative progresses dramatically, with suspense and surprising revelations. The protagonist, Shao Changshui (邵长水) is sent to Taoligen to convince Lao Donglin (劳东林), an expert detective who is temporarily out of work, to consider returning to the service. As is revealed later, Lao Donglin has resigned from his job in order to secretly investi-

gate the acting provincial secretary, but he was soon killed in a set-up car accident. The protagonist thus has to overcome many obstacles to arrest the acting provincial secretary for corruption. Justice wins. In 2008, Lu Tianming wrote a 600,000-word documentary novel Fates (Mingyun, 命运), which traces the rise of Shenzhen from a fishing village to becoming the first Chinese economic zone. Historical figures (e.g. Song Zinan [宋梓南], the mayor; Deng Xiaoping [邓小平], who visited the city in 1992) and fictional characters interact throughout the narrative. The tremendous task of building the infrastructure of the city is paralleled with the difficult task of introducing new ways of thinking, ranging from the modern attitudes about time and business transactions to human relations and the self. As a member of the Central Television Station, Lu Tianming also wrote screenplays and stage plays. His television scripts include Hua Luogeng (华罗庚 , a well-known mathematician, 1910– 1985), Wen Yiduo (闻一多, a prominent May Fourth poet, 1899–1946), Li Kenong (李克农, a CCP spy, 1899–1962), and biographies of upright intellectuals. His most famous film script, Walk beyond the Horizon (Zouchu dipngxian, 走出地 平线, 1992), depicts how, during the Cultural Revolution, the malnourished peasants risked their lives by secretly dividing up the land, a brave action that later led to the dismantling of the People’s Commune System and the introduction of the Agricultural Responsibility System. Lu Tianming represents the voice of righteousness in contemporary Chinese literature, no matter whether in his novels about Xinjiang Zhiqing or his anti-corruption novels. Though some of his anti-corruption writings do not always appeal to highbrow critics, he has gained a nationwide audience. He is conscious and eager to gain artistic recognition, as shown in his highbrow fiction, such as The Sun over the Sangna Highland, Mud Sun, and Mutu). Lu Tianming is the father of Lu Chuan (陆 川 ), internationally famous director of the films Searching the Gun (Xunqiang, 寻枪, 2002) and Nanjing, Nanjing (南京,南京, 2009), and brother of the woman writer Lu Xing’er (陆星儿, 1949–2004), who was known for her works on rustication and women.

Notes 1. See also an interview with Lu Tianming, in Laifong Leung, Morning Sun: Interviews with Chinese




4. 5.



Writers of the Lost Generation. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1994, pp. 121–132. Lu Tianming, “Huangyuan de zhengtuo: zhendui lingdu wunai—jiantan ‘Sangna gaodi de taiyang’ he ‘Ni Ri’ ” (荒原的挣脱:针对零度无奈:兼谈“桑那高地的 太阳”和“泥日”, Shaking Off the Barren Land: On Zero Alternative—About “The Sun over the Sangna Highland” and “Mud Sun”), Wenxue Pinglun (文学 评论), 1993, 1, pp. 137–146. Hu Linghong (胡凌红), “Lu Tianming: biaoxian renmin he minzu de shengming suqiu” (陆天明: 表现 人民和民族的生命诉求, Lu Tianming: Represent the Call of the People and the Nation), Shanghai Caifeng (上海采风), 2, 2007, p. 32. Ibid., p. 33. Pang Gewei (逢格炜) and Pei Yongzhong (裴永忠), “Dangdai Zhongguo fanfu dianshiju fazhan shuping” (当代中国反腐电视剧发展述评, An Overview of Anti-corruption Television Dramas in China), Yishu guangjiao (艺术广角), 2, 2004, p. 5. Yang Liyuan (杨立元), “Yong xiaoshuo wenben wei renmin daiyan: Lu Tianming xiaoshuo lun” (用小说 文本为人民代言:陆天明小说论, Use Fictional Texts to Speak up for the People: On Lu Tianming’s Fiction), Langfang Shifan xueyuan xuebao (廊坊师范学院学报 ), 3, 2003, p. 14. Lu Tianming, “Wo wei shenme xie ‘Shengwei shuji’ ” (我为什么写“省委书记”?, Why Did I Write Provincial Secretary?), Dangdai zuojia pinglun (当代作家评论), 6, 2002, pp. 23–24.

LU WENFU (陆文夫, 1928–2005) Connoisseur of Suzhou Lu Wenfu is commonly recognized as the iconic writer of Suzhou, an ancient city known for its network of Venice-like waterways, exquisite gardens, winding alleys, and musical “pingtan” (评弹, a special form of storytelling accompanied by a three-string instrument and a pipa, 琵琶). Using Suzhou City as the setting for most of his fiction, Lu Wenfu effectively captures its ups and downs and the minds and moods of its people against the backdrop of Chinese society since 1949. More significantly, he uses the fates of the Suzhou people to critique the destruction of high culture, tradition, and human nature by excessive politicization. He was also a connoisseur of Suzhou cuisine, tea, and wine. He embodied Suzhou and was given the title “Lu Suzhou” (陆 苏州). He published four volumes of The Collected Works of Lu Wenfu (Lu Wenfu wenji, 陆文夫 文集, 2005), and his stories have appeared in many languages. Lu Wenfu was actually not a native of Suzhou. He was born in Taixing County (泰兴县), Jiangsu Province, but went to Jingjiang County (靖江县) to

join his father at the age of six. During World War II, Lu Wenfu moved to Suzhou with his family to live with relatives. After graduating from Suzhou Middle School, he attended Central China University (华中大学) in Yancheng (盐城), which was located in the CCP-controlled area in northern Jiangsu Province. He graduated in summer 1949 and immediately afterwards joined the PLA. After the communist victory, he left the army and worked as a reporter for the New Suzhou Daily (Xin Suzhou bao, 新苏州报), for eight years, a job that gave him the opportunity to intermingle with ordinary people. The stories they shared with him later became a valuable source for his writing.

Defloration of the Hundred Flowers: Persecution of the “Explorers” Like many writers who began publishing in the 1950s, Lu Wenfu portrayed the new society in a positive light. His early stories center upon the “socialist new man,” who puts the party and socialist construction ahead of himself and his family. For instance, in his 1953 story, “New Year’s Eve” (Jieri de yewan, 节日的夜晚),1 Lu Wenfu describes in fluid language the busy life of a mechanic who sacrifices his New Year vacation in order to repair the broken motor of a boat that transports goods to the people. Lu Wenfu’s characters are not robots, but display sensitive human emotions. In “The Honor” (Rongyu, 荣誉, 1955),2 the female protagonist, whose name and photograph have appeared on the Honor Roll for producing perfect products, suddenly discovers that she has actually made a mistake in misusing some threads. There is a detailed description of her emotional agony over whether she should tell the truth to the textile factory authority. The inspector responsible for quality checking is afraid of exposing his carelessness and he warns her not to reveal her error. Her dilemma is resolved after hearing the remark of a retired female worker, who has high hopes of the young generation. The story won a literary award in Jiangsu Province and appeared in English translation in Chinese Literature. Encouraged by this success, Lu Wenfu quickly wrote seven more short stories. What makes Lu Wenfu’s factory tales unique is that he includes descriptions of the Suzhou landscape and its folk culture. On the whole, these stories fall within the field of socialist realism. Lu Wenfu’s writing career was interrupted by political suppression. In 1956, Mao launched the


Hundred Flowers Campaign, calling on people to speak their minds. In June 1957, frustrated by the limitations imposed on writing, Lu Wenfu and seven young writers (Gao Xiaosheng, 高晓声, Fang Zhi, 方之, Mei Rukai, 梅汝凯, Ai Xuan, 艾煊, Ye Zhicheng, 叶至诚, Zeng Hua, 曾华, and Chen Chunnian, 陈椿年) planned to launch the magazine Explorers (Tanqiu zhe, 探求者). They drafted an announcement that outlined their ideas on literary creation and literary criticism: they called for truthful reflections of reality, the eradication of empty talk, the expression of independent thought, and the abandonment of authority worship and the blind following of trends; they questioned the overapplication of socialist realism that led to black-and-white characterization; they called for the use of realism; and they opposed the indiscriminate denunciation of the old traditions. What Lu Wenfu and his fellow writers did not realize was that the dark clouds were already gathering above their heads. The draft was reprinted in the October 1957 issue of the Nanjing literary magazine Rain Flower (Yuhua, 雨花), and a call for discussion and criticism was issued. Soon, the attack on Explorers spread nationwide. All eight writers involved were condemned as a “counterrevolutionary clique” and branded Rightists. All were sent either to labor reform or to the countryside, and only four resumed writing, some 20 years later. The case of Explorers was not rehabilitated until 1979. Also attacked was Lu Wenfu’s 1956 story, “Deep within a Small Lane” (Xiaoxiang shenchu, 小巷深处, Mengya, 10, 1956) which deals with the taboo subject of prostitutes. The story demonstrates a great leap in his writing. It was inspired by a reformed prostitute who refused to be interviewed by Lu Wenfu when he was a reporter for New Suzhou Daily (Xin Suzhou bao, 新苏州报) for fear that her husband’s family would find out about her past.3 Set in Suzhou, the narrative incorporates scenes of winding alleys, moonlight, bridges, and streams to enhance the atmosphere. The female protagonist, Xu Wenxia (徐文霞), a former prostitute, is plunged into a state of fear because she is worried that her boyfriend, a technician and university graduate, will abandon her once he discovers her past. Her fear deepens after a former client finds her home and blackmails her for money. She has no choice but to tell the boyfriend the truth. The narrative tension increases as the boyfriend’s reaction to her past unfolds. A positive ending is implied when the

boyfriend comes to knock at her door, deep within a small alley. The story was condemned, among other things, for its emphasis on petty-bourgeois love and the use of a prostitute as a central character. Lu Wenfu was sent to labor reform in factories, as a welder and lathe worker. This did not bow his spirit. Over the course of two and a half years, he was awarded “Excellent Apprentice,” “Advanced Worker,” and “Excellent Technical Innovator.” He was then allowed to resume writing. He wrote a series of stories about workers. “Master Ge” (Ge shifu, 葛师傅, Renmin wenxue, 1–2, 1961) portrays a highly skillful worker who likes drinking. “Twice Running into Zhou Tai” (Er yu Zhou Tai, 二遇周泰, Renmin wenxue, 1, 1963) traces the career of a skillful mechanic with a strange temper. Lu Wenfu admirably displayed his artistic conscience for depicting socialist heroes with flaws. Mao Dun, a veteran writer from the May Fourth Period, praised Lu Wenfu for his character portrayal. However, after the theory of “writing middle characters” came under attack, in 1964, Lu Wenfu was sent to Jiangning County (江宁县) for labor reform. One year later, he was called back to work in a textile factory. During the Cultural Revolution, he and his family were exiled to become peasants in northern Jiangsu Province in 1969, and they did not return to Suzhou until 1978.

Return of an Explorer: Deeper into the Suzhou alleys Lu Wenfu’s treatment of the past differs from that of many other writers. He seems to have put aside his own suffering and instead projects his insights onto the characters he portrays. He uses the lives of his characters as a way to view his own transformation, often through the first-person narrator. Seen in this light, Lu Wenfu’s stories constitute a multi-angled reflection of himself and of Chinese society. Once rehabilitated, wasting no time, Lu Wenfu plunged into writing. In 1978, his short story “Dedication” (Xianshen, 献身, Renmin wenxue, 4, 978), which deals with the theme of unjust persecution through a devoted earth scientist, won a National Best Short Stories award (1978). Lu Wenfu’s greater success was his Suzhou tales. After more than two decades of political oppression, he understood Suzhou and its people from a different angle. Using the reflective first-person


narrator, he created tales from the winding alleys with profound insight, humor, and critical distance. The novella “The Man from a Peddler’s Family” (Xiaofan shijia, 小贩世家, Yuhua, 1, 1980) is a marvelous tale portraying the image of a peddler rarely seen in contemporary Chinese literature. It is a critique of the irrational policy of eradicating small businesses catering to the everyday needs of the people, such as shoe-repair stores, hotwater suppliers, and wonton-noodle stands, for the dogmatic plan of stopping the growth of capitalism. The root of this lunacy is the quest for egalitarianism. Its negative consequences are obvious, as the first-person narrator observes: “After that, one has to walk over a mile to buy boiled water, to wait twenty days to get shoes repaired, old people have to line up for a hair cut in the big street.”4 The energetic and enterprising peddler Zhu Yuanda (朱源达) sells wonton noodles at night, offering convenience to those in need, among whom is the marginalized first-person narrator. However, the bond between them shatters when the peddler’s family is driven out of the city as “parasites.” After Mao’s death, the peddler’s family returns to Suzhou. The sad irony is that the peddler has lost all his ambition to do anything, and all he wants to keep is the wooden pole for carrying the wonton left by his deceased father. A sense of nostalgia is integrated with a description of the erosion of the human spirit by extreme policies. Lu Wenfu depicts the devastating consequences for a society of placing class struggle over education. In “Liu Qiaodi” (刘巧第, 1980),5 the female textile worker from the “old society” initially shows interest in learning how to read and write with the first-person narrator, a teacher for workers. However, when she is chosen to be a model worker for speaking of the bitter past by the propaganda office, she has no time for study. After witnessing the repeated persecution of the teacher–narrator, she surrenders the idea of learning totally. If the more one knows, the more one suffers, why should she educate her two sons? In the post-Mao era, she wakes up to realize her mistake too late. What brought Lu Wenfu’s writing to a new height is the novella “The Gourmet” (Meishijia, 美食家, Shouhuo, 1, 1983), which won a National Best Novellas award. There are two main characters: Gao Xiaoting (高 小 庭 ), the first-person narrator of poor origin, and his opposite, Zhu Ziye

(朱自冶), a rich cousin who was a land owner before the CCP rule and a connoisseur of food. Gao and his mother live in Zhu’s big house and do chores for the latter as a form of rent payment. Gao finds this relationship humiliating and regards Zhu’s lifestyle as parasitic. The story progresses along two parallel lines, one depicting Zhu’s adventures to satisfy his taste buds and his high demand for gourmet cooking, which displays a rich repertoire of the author’s knowledge of the culture of refined cuisine. Zhu goes to live with a woman (a former concubine of a rich merchant who has fled China) who cooks good food. His inability to make a living reminds one of the superfluous men in Russian literature. The other line progresses along the arc of Gao’s career. After 1949, ironically, he ascends to the position of manager of a restaurant that used to be a hub of excellent cuisine. To him, food and the manner of eating meticulously prepared delicacies are petty-bourgeois behaviors to be expunged. With sarcasm, Lu Wenfu depicts the “revolutionary behaviors” of Gao: he changes all the delicacies to ordinary dishes, and customers have to get their own chopsticks and dishes from the kitchen. Consequently, high culture disappears in the name of the revolution. Ironically, even the commoners (proletariat) hate the common (proletarian) dishes. An unanticipated change in a sequence of events comes after Mao’s death. Zhu, deemed useless before, is highly regarded as a valuable source of Chinese cuisine. Gao finally wakes up to reality and adopts Zhu’s ideas. After the publication of “Gourmet,” Lu Wenfu was regarded as a culinary expert. In actuality, he was a connoisseur of tea, wine, and food. Lu Wenfu uses concrete objects as key images to construct his narrative. In the prize-winning story “The Boundary Wall” (Weiqiang, 围墙, Renmin wenxue, 2, 1983), he satirizes bureaucratic inefficiency and irresponsibility through the collapse and rebuilding of a wall in front of an agricultural office building. Owing to the conflicts between the “conservative faction” and the “modern faction,” the wall is left dilapidated for a long time. When the young, energetic, lowranked technician goes to hire some workers to rebuild the wall over the course of a weekend, people express, not appreciation, but disapproval. The situation is remedied only when several external experts praise the work—revealing yet another societal defect in the lack of standards of judgment.


Lu Wenfu’s novella “The Well” (Jing, 井, Zhongguo zuojia, 3, 1985) revisits the oppression of women in the winding lanes of Suzhou. The well at the entrance to the lane provides, not only water, but also a place for gossip. The narrative traces with increasing tension the unhappy marriage of beautiful Xu Lisha (徐丽莎), a devoted pharmaceutical scientist, from the 1950s to the 1980s. For more than 20 years, she suffers humiliation at the hands of her mean mother-in-law and cadre husband and from the gossips at work and in the alley. Yet she is not permitted a divorce. When all paths are taken away from her, she drowns herself in the well, as a silent protest.

Fighting for Living Space in the Name of the Revolution In 1995, Lu Wenfu completed his only novel, The Mansion (Ren zhi wo, 人之窝), which marks the culmination of his artistry. The metaphorical Chinese title for the novel is “Human’s nest.” Like birds building a nest, so do human beings; like birds fighting to occupy other birds’ nests, so do human beings, except with more unscrupulous means in the name of the revolution. The Mansion is a novel of rich connotations. Using the first-person narrator, Lu Wenfu views Chinese society through the lens of human shelters, from the Republican period to the Cultural Revolution. Set in Suzhou, this long novel consists of two parts. Part 1 takes place during the Republican period. It focuses on the eight young university students (perhaps resonating the eight condemned Explorers writers) who are invited by the chief character, Xu Dawei (许达伟), to move into the grand Xu Mansion (Xu jia dayuan, 许家 大院), which he inherited from his family. As a microcosm of society, the Xu Mansion is a community with six entrances and 88 doors, inhabited by people from various backgrounds, all of whom moved in at one time or another, through various relations with the family—including a scholar, a gambler, a former prostitute, an artist, a concubine of a Shanghai merchant, an opera singer, and servants. Educated, compassionate, and idealistic, the protagonist Xu embodies the best of his class. He is generous and wishes someday to share the mansion with poor scholars, in the spirit of Tang dynasty poet Du Fu. The narrative is set in motion after his friends move in. Their free style and particularly their dance parties with Western music

cause a commotion in the conservative community. While they are immersed in their own problems with love and study, there lurks the scheme of those who plot to occupy more space in the mansion. With exciting twist and turns, the villains’ plot to kick out the students succeeds through framing them as underground communists. There is a time gap between the two parts so as to show similarities and contrasts. Part 2 begins 17 years later, with the Cultural Revolution. Changes in the fates of the characters are gradually revealed to the first-person narrator, who returns secretly from Chongqing to visit his friends during the chaos of the Cultural Revolution. Each reencounter unveils a sad story, showing a contrast with the young and hopeful past: some were sent to labor reform, some lived under the surveillance of the masses, and some were dead. The Xu Mansion now belongs to the state and is divided up into more units, to accommodate the large numbers. Battles are waged between factions within the mansion in the name of the revolution, but the real intention is to seize more living space. The owner–protagonist’s family is given three tiny rooms in different corners of the mansion. Ironically, his dream to share his mansion with the poor is realized, but not in the way he expects. Toward the end of the novel, he and his family are even exiled to the countryside. His mother, old and tired, hangs herself as a silent protest against forced exile. Both parts end with the departure of the first-person narrator: the first ends with hope, the second with despair. With his expertise in wine, tea, and food, Lu Wenfu opened a restaurant called Old Suzhou Restaurant (Lao Suzhou Jiulou, 老苏州酒楼) with the purpose of raising funds for the Jiangsu Union of Writers and Artists. To retain the old culture of Suzhou, he also founded Suzhou Magazine (Suzhou Zazhi, 苏州杂志) and became its chief editor. In 1982, Lu Wenfu published a collection of short essays, based on his lectures on the art of writing fiction, modestly entitled Talks on Writing Fiction by an Amateur (Xiaoshuo menwai tan, 小说门外谈). In fact, he was among the few Chinese writers who could come up with a systematic presentation of the craft of writing fiction.6 Lu Wenfu was not only a master of fiction grounded in the local people and culture of Suzhou—in itself a gesture of resistance against the destruction of high culture, tradition, and the good part of human nature by the brutal applica-


tion of extreme policies—but he also built upon and retained that culture through his stories and editorship.

Notes 1. In Lu Wenfu wenji (陆文夫文集, Collected Works of Lu Wenfu), vol. 3. Suzhou: Gu Wu Xuan chubanshe, 2006, pp. 90–106. 2. Ibid., pp. 44–59. 3. “Recollecting ‘Deep within a Small Lane,’ ” in Lu Wenfu wenji (Collected Works of Lu Wenfu), vol. 5, pp. 131–135. 4. Collected in Lu Wenfu, Xiaoxiang renwu zhi ( 小巷人物志, Chronicles of People in Small Lanes). Beijing: Zhongguo wenyi lianhe chuban gongsi, 1984, pp. 123–124. 5. Ibid., pp. 164–182. 6. For a sample of his essays on fiction writing, see “Lu Wenfu: Spokesman for a Victimized Generation: Can there be progress after ‘midlife’?”, in Helmet Martin (ed.), Modern Chinese Writers: Self-portrayals. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1992, pp. 73–78.

Translations into English “Dedication,” in Geremie Barmé and Bennett Lee (trans. and eds.), The Wounded: New Stories of the Cultural Revolution. Hong Kong: Joint Publishing, 1979, pp. 73–100. “The Boundary Wall” (trans. Rosie A. Roberts), Chinese Literature, Spring (1984): 38–59. Also in Bian Ying (ed.), The Time Is Not Yet Ripe: Contemporary China’s Best Writers and Their Stories. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1991, pp. 155–184. “The Gourmet” (trans. Fanqin Yu), Chinese Literature, Winter (1985): 49–111. “The Doorbell” (trans. Alison Bailey), Chinese Literature, Summer (1986): 3–17. A World of Dreams. Beijing: Chinese Literature Press, 1986. “The Well” (trans. Fanqin Yu), Chinese Literature, Spring (1987): 93–144. The Gourmet and Other Stories of Modern China (trans. Judith Burrows). London: Readers International, 1987. “Other-worldly” (trans. Gladys Yang), Chinese Literature, Autumn (1988): 13–19. “The Man from a Peddler’s Family” (trans. Ralph Lake), in Best Chinese Stories, 1949–1989. Beijing: Chinese Literature Press, 1989. “Spokesman for a Victimized Generation: Can There be Progress after ‘Midlife’?” (trans. Beata Grant), in Helmut Martin and Jeffrey Kinkley (eds.), Modern Chinese Writers: Self-portrayals. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1992, pp. 73–78.

The Gourmet and Other Selected Writings. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 2009.

LU XING’ER (陆星儿, 1949–2004) Promoting Women’s Selfempowerment A feminist in the conventional sense, Lu Xing’er was best known for her fictional works and essays concerning women. As a single mother, she had to squeeze in the time to write. Years of relentless devotion to writing resulted in a harvest of more than 2 million words. Besides 13 collections of short stories and novellas, 11 collections of essays, and five television scripts, she also published six novels. In the late 1990s, realizing how much she had missed, she took a break to travel to many scenic spots in China, Russia, and Europe. Even though she did not receive proper attention from critics, many women readers were inspired by her writing. Lu Xing’er was still writing when she died of stomach cancer in September 2004, at the age of 55. Lu Xing’er was born in Shanghai. Her father, who worked in a bank, died of tuberculosis when she was five years old, leaving her mother, a nurse, the task of bringing up four children. Her elder brother, Lu Tianming (陆天明) had great revolutionary enthusiasm and volunteered in the early 1960s to go to Xinjiang. His encouraging letters had a great impact on her. When the Rustication Movement began in late 1968, Lu Xing’er went to the Great Barren North, despite her mother’s objection. She did not return to the city until 1978.

Beginning Writing in the Wilderness: Propagandistic feature stories Like many Zhiqing writers, Lu Xing’er began writing propaganda pieces during rustication. While she worked as a tractor driver, she wrote about “good people and good deeds” (haoren haoshi, 好人好事) for the bulletin board of the state farm. In May 1971, she was assigned to the propaganda division of the regiment, where she met her future husband, Chen Kexiong (陈可雄). Along with several sent-down youths, they established a small newspaper, Ice Patterns (Bingling hua, 冰凌 花). Lu Xing’er also published news information and reports in the Military Farm Guards News (Bingtuan zhanshi bao, 兵团战士报), Yichun Daily


(Yichun ribao, 伊春日报), and Heilongjiang Daily (Heilongjiang ribao, 黑龙江日报). In 1974, Lu Xing’er’s first short story, “Cow Horn” (Niujiao, 牛角), appeared in Heilongjiang Literature & Art (Heilongjiang wenyi, 黑龙江文 艺). Her second short story, “Red Maple” (Fengye yinhong, 枫叶殷红) appeared in the first resumed issue of the national People’s Literature (Renmin wenxue) in early 1976. When People’s Literature launched a program to “invite workers, peasants and soldiers to the office,” Lu Xing’er was recommended to go to Beijing to be trained in editorial work. Meanwhile, she published “Two Sketches of People in the Great Barren North” (Beidahuang renwu suxie, 北大荒人物速写) in the 11th issues of 1977 in People’s Literature (Renmin wenxue). Though, at that time, her writing was largely of a propaganda nature, a chance to work in Beijing exposed her to the inner workings of the editorial process and books unavailable in the countryside. After the training, she returned to Heilongjiang, where she married Chen Kexiong. In late 1977, Chen Kexiong entered Fudan University in Shanghai. In autumn 1978, Lu Xing’er enrolled in the Department of Literature in the Central Drama Institute in Beijing, ending her ten years of rustication.1 Like her elder brother, Lu Tianming, and many others who began writing during the Cultural Revolution, Lu Xing’er had to break away from the Maoist literary dogmas. During the Beijing spring, from late 1978 to early 1979, she was fascinated by burgeoning new cultural trends, particularly the Xingxing Painting Exhibition, the first display of avant-garde Chinese art. Lu Xing’er’s early stories were written in collaboration with her husband, Chen Kexiong. Their novella “My Heart Is like a Vast Sea” (Wo de xin ye xiang dahai, 我 的心也像大海, Shouhuo, 4, 1981) deals with the theme of adaptation to changes after the Cultural Revolution. Whereas the female protagonist accepts the new rhythm of life, the male protagonist cannot adapt to the changes. She leaves him and moves ahead to the future, which is symbolically as large as the sea. In 1980, Lu Xing’er started to write her own fiction and proved to be a success. Her first novella, “A Design of Beauty” (Mei de jiegou, 美 的结构, Lüyuan, 2, 1981) interweaves a puritanical relationship and a call for treasuring talents for modernization. It progresses along two lines. One depicts how the passion for architecture brings Lin Nan (林楠) and Zheng Haitao (郑海涛)

together, and how, after she finds out he is married, she maintains a platonic relationship with him. The other reveals how the work unit (the Party) interferes with personal matters. The ending is positive, though contrived. The male protagonist wins the award as deserved, and a worker’s residence based on his design is going to be built in an inland city. The female protagonist goes to participate in the construction of her beloved’s design. That rationality and morality triumph over emotion is a recurrent characteristic in Lu Xing’er writing.

Female Zhiqing’s Dilemma: Love, motherhood and self-realization From the early 1980s onward, Lu Xing’er consciously focused her energy on writing about the plight of Chinese women. She began with Zhiqing women, based on her own experiences. The story “To an Unborn Child” (Xie gei wei dansheng de haizi, 写给未诞生的孩子, Yanhe, 11, 1982) represents Lu Xing’er’s break from the conventional method of writing a “complete” story and her first work written entirely from a woman’s perspective. The first-person narrator (a former Zhiqing) poignantly addresses her unborn child about her predicaments, from obtaining a residential permit and an identity registration for the future child to the harassment she endures in the process of writing her graduation thesis. The unborn child becomes the confidant of the mother. The success of this story made Lu Xing’er realize that writing should originate from one’s heart, not from any dictated pattern. In many of her works, Lu Xing’er’s female protagonist is characteristically a former Zhiqing who has returned to the city after making many sacrifices. She lives in two worlds: the past, in the Great Barren North, dominated initially by youthful enthusiasm and later disillusionment, and the present urban life, burdened by work, loneliness, and struggles. Lu Xing’er’s best-known novella, “Oh, Blue Bird” (Ah, Qingniao, 啊,青鸟, Shouhuo, 2, 1982), was inspired by Maeterlinck’s play Blue Bird. While visiting her husband, who is attending university in the city, the female protagonist, Rongrong (蓉蓉), still a Zhiqing in the Great Barren North, feels his contempt for her ignorance. To empower herself, she is determined to further her education. The thrust of the narrative focuses on her juggling attending college and being a mother (she gives birth to a baby in


another city without telling the husband). The completion of her translation of Maeterlinck’s Blue Bird and its successful stage performance finally put her husband to shame. She has found her “blue bird,” a symbol of happiness, through her own effort. The novella “The Mountain Flowers Have Bloomed Quietly” (Dazixiang qiaoqiao de kaile, 达紫香悄悄地开了, Shouhuo, 4, 1983) depicts the guilty feelings of a former female Zhiqing in spite of her successful career in the city. The life of Xiaoxiao (潇潇 ), the female Zhiqing, unfolds through juxtaposition of the past and the present. In order to return to Shanghai, Xiaoxiao has left her beloved rural husband (who prefers to stay in his native place) and her baby son. Lu Xing’er’s revisit to the Great Barren North in the summer of 1984 changed her perspective of writing about rustication. After the visit, in five months, she completed writing about the plight of five Zhiqing who remained in the Great Barren North. These novellas were collected in the book Grave Stones Left in the Wilderness (Yiliu zai huangyuan de bei, 遗留在荒原的碑, 1987). As she said in the afterword, “I am familiar with them. I know why and how they chose to stay after the Cultural Revolution. Life goes on. This page of Zhiqing history has finished and these Zhiqing have been forgotten by the tides of history” (p. 459).2 These novellas are important in the development of Zhiqing fiction, because most writers focus on the lives of Zhiqing after they return to the city and seldom write about those left behind. Suffering from “survivor’s guilt,” Lu Xing’er sympathetically expresses their shattered youthful dreams and feelings of abandonment. She portrays them as torn between self-doubt about their choice and, at the same time, their anxiety about their future. Representative of these works is “A Winter Road” (Dongtian de daolu, 冬天的道路, Xiaoshuojie, 2, 1985), which poignantly depicts the predicaments of a former female Zhiqing who has chosen to stay with her rural husband. Living in poverty, she has changed from a well-mannered city girl to a rough, tough woman, like “a cow ploughs the field.” Now middle aged, she takes her ill six-year-old son to her home city, Beijing, to get medical treatment. The train journey that takes her home also takes her to her past. Her hope is shattered after the death of her son. Lu Xing’er gives the tale a positive note by having her female protagonist return to her teaching job in the countryside, where her work is much appreciated.

Women’s Voices: Tell their tales In 1988, Lu Xing’er returned to Shanghai with her son, after her divorce, and became a professional writer in the Shanghai Branch of the Writers’ Association. Her fiction attracted many women readers who shared their life stories with her. Beginning in the 1990s, she published many collections of stories bearing titles with a feminist tinge, such as Born Woman (Tiansheng shi ge nüren, 天 生是个女人, 1991), One Woman’s Stage (Yige nüren de yitai xi, 一个女人的一台戏, 1991), and Women’s Rules (Nüren de guize, 女人的规则 , 1995). In these stories, Lu Xing’er covers themes revolving around women’s experiences. She writes about a woman’s undeserved humiliation for not being able to bear a son (“Overnight” [Yiye zhijian, 一夜之间])3 or how divorced couples live in one apartment owing to the shortage of living spaces (“Under the Same Roof “[Zai tongyi pan wuding xia, 在同一爿屋顶下]).4 She writes about abortion and birth (“There Is No Sunshine Today” [Jintian meiyou taiyang, 今天没有太阳])5 and how a widow mentally fixated on the deceased husband, while ignoring her own well-being (“The One and the Other” [Yige he yige, 一个和一个]).6 She also writes about the greater choices opening up for urban educated women, and their liberal attitudes toward love and marriage (“The Eleventh” [Di shiyi ge, 第十一个]).7 The inequality between man and woman because of a woman’s reproductive function is vividly shown in Lu Xing’er’s short story “There Is No Sunshine Today” (Jintian meiyou taiyang, 今天没有太阳).8 It is set in a hospital where a number of women are waiting in line for an abortion. Very little is said about the female protagonist, except that she is in love with a married man and has become pregnant. At the core of the story are the complaints of the anonymous women, from various backgrounds, about their own sad situations due to pregnancy, thus revealing the inherent inequality between the two sexes. The narrative ends with the female protagonist leaving without having the abortion. She decides to have her baby, regardless of what her lover thinks she should do. The well-structured short story “The One and the Other” (Yige he yige, 一个和一个)9 explores how the shadow of a man, alive or dead, still controls a woman, without the latter realizing it. Two women with entirely different temperaments live across the corridor in the same apartment building. They are doubles in many ways. Song


Huishan (宋惠姗) is a quiet widow who works in a government unit, and Hua Qian (华倩) is an outgoing arts and crafts designer who makes frequent business trips. Even though Song Huishan’s husband passed away three years ago, she adheres to the same habits as if he were still alive—she places his chopsticks on the dinner table, eats the same food, and sits in the same sofa; she also brings the fruit he liked to his grave every year. Song Huishan accidentally discovers that Hua Qian still clings to Yin, a married engineer, from the Cultural Revolution days. Puzzled and shocked, Song Huishan gets on a bus, and metaphorically: It follows the route, the beginning is the end and the end is the beginning . . . She does not know how many stops the bus has travelled, nor does she know if it has arrived at the terminal or departed. (p. 137) Conservative or modern, they both live under the shadow of their men, the only difference being one is already dead, and the other still alive. Lu Xing’er’s superb novella “In Water” (Ren zai shui zhong, 人在水中, Shanghai xiaoshuo, 4, 1996) examines further women’s own love entanglement. It is inspired by a case in which a highranking official kills his mistress because she has become a threat to his career advancement. She probes the psychology of the protagonists, Wang Huansheng (王 寰 生 ) and his girlfriend, Jian Huimin (简惠敏). Lu Xing’er depicts their desires in a materially prosperous urban setting. To Wang, the male protagonist, Jian is just his sex object, but to Jian, Wang is her idol and love. After Jian’s death, her soul wanders the city, searching for Wang; she tells him that she has been waiting for him for more than a decade and wants to possess him.

Novels, Reportage, and Essays Lu Xing’er’s first novel, A Kiss to the Century (Liugei shiji de wen, 留给世纪的吻, 1987), portrays life in Beijing in the early 1980s through a family trying to come to terms with the past. The Cultural Revolution has torn the family apart. Tang Tiehai (唐铁海), the dogmatic father and high-ranking official, represents those who are willing to sacrifice their family’s interests for the party. He has made the grave mistake of dutifully handing over

to the leadership his son’s letters that are critical of Lin Biao (林彪, Mao’s appointed successor), which resulted in his son being sent to labor reform, where he lost one eye. His son never forgives him. Tang Tiehai has in turn been victimized by his wife, who exposed him in a big-character poster about his earlier love affair with the daughter of a landlord. Parallel to this is the changing relationships of the four Tang brothers and sisters. In them one sees love and sacrifice (Tang Kai’s [唐凱] wife), hypocrisy and unfaithfulness (Tang Yin’s [唐茵] unfaithful husband), greed and jealousy (Tang Ping [唐萍]), foreign worship and vanity (Tang Dou [唐逗]), and devotion and nobleness (Tang Kai’s enthusiasm for state-farm reform). The eldest son, Tang Kai, and eldest daughter, Tang Yin, embody the novel’s two interrelated themes: reform and self-empowerment. To paint a canvas of life in China as it undergoes reform, the novel is crowded with too many details of the times, such as imported pornographic films, cosmetics, and clothing, the Friendship Store, the Special Foreign Currency (waihuijuan, 外汇券), and wild dance parties that cater to the young. In post-Mao China, mental illness was a sensitive subject. In 1993, Lu Xing’er made a breakthrough in publishing The Psychiatrist (Jingshenke yisheng, 精神科医生), which is derived from her conversations, from summer to autumn 1991, with a psychiatrist and his patients and their families (p. 202).10 The narrative progresses with the new psychiatrist, Dr Xie Chengchi (谢城池), gradually exposed to the complexity and dark aspects of his work unit, the Mental Illness Prevention Clinic. The core content of the novel rests on Dr Xie’s interactions with the patients and their symptoms: for instance, a former female Red Guard still talks in Cultural Revolution rhetoric and sings revolutionary songs, and a young woman suffers from excessive anxiety and fear because she has been coerced into participating in a corruption scheme in her work unit. Largely owing to the emphasis on the collective and the state’s control of sports, the genre of sports biographies was underdeveloped in China. This began to change in the late 1990s, and Lu Xing’er was among the earliest to write a biography of an individual athlete. Her fame for writing about women made her the ideal candidate for writing the biography of Lang Ping (郎平), an internationally known volleyball player and coach. Their similarities—both are middle aged, divorced,


and devoted to their profession—resulted in a seamless collaboration. Most of the book, Exhilarating Years (Jiqing suiyue, 激情岁月, 1999), is narrated by Lang Ping, with inserted feminist comments from Lu Xing’er. Lang Ping reveals the bureaucratic structure of Chinese sport, behindthe-scenes information about the international games she participated in, as well as her own dilemmas over the individual and the state. Despite her difficult situation—just divorced, with a small daughter—in 1994, out of patriotism and passion for the sport, she accepted an invitation to return to China to lead the declining women’s volleyball team at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games, where it won silver. During the last years of Lu Xing’er’s life, she completed the novel Pain (Tong, 痛, 2003) and a long autobiographical essay, “Breathing Laboriously” (Dali huxi, 大力呼吸, 2003). At the time of writing Pain, she was sick, but did not know she had cancer. In order to maintain her energy levels, she skipped with a rope every morning. This novel, set in the early 1980s, is based on a real corruption case in which the male protagonist was unjustly imprisoned. As pointed out by critic Chen Sihe (陈思和), the novel could have been set after the 1990s, and greater emphasis could have been placed on the protagonist’s inner reflections (pp. 5–8).11 Lu Xing’er was also a prolific essay writer. Her essay collections concerning women include The Inner World of a Woman (Yige nüren de neixin shijie, 一个女人的内心世界, 1992), I am a Mother (Wo shi muqin, 我是母亲, 1994), Mother and Son (Mu yu zi, 母与子 , 1996), The Day Women Emerge (Nüren chutou zhi ri, 女人出头之日, 1995), and Not Born Women (Nüren bu tiansheng, 女人 不天生, 1996). Basically a realistic writer with a strong sense of mission and moral consciousness, Lu Xing’er was one of the earliest and most devoted female writers to give voice to women and to raise issues of women’s self-empowerment through her fiction and essays. Though she has not attracted the attention she deserved, the wealth of information she provided about the plight of Chinese women over the decades is a valuable contribution to contemporary Chinese literature.

Notes 1. Lu Xing’er biographical information was derived from my interviews with her in 1987, 1994, and on several other occasions afterwards. See Laifong

Leung, Morning Sun: Interviews with Chinese Writers of the Lost Generation. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1994, pp. 133–143. See also Li Jing (李晶), “Lu Xing’er pingzhuan” (陆星儿评传, A Critical Evaluation of Lu Xing’er), Dangdai zuojia pinglun (当代作家评论), 5, 1989: 4–13. 2. Lu Xing’er, “Tantan wo de diyibu xulie zhongpian ‘Yiliu zai huangyuan de bei’ ” (谈谈我的第一部序列中 篇“遗留在荒原的碑”, On My First Serial Novellas Grave Stones Forgotten in the Wilderness). Beijing: Renmin wenxue chubanshe, 1987, pp. 458–462. 3. In Lu Xing’er, Yige nüren de yitai xi (一个女人的一台 戏, One Woman’s Stage). Shanghai: Shanghai wenyi chubanshe, 1991, pp. 250–263. 4. Ibid., pp. 178–194. 5. Ibid., pp. 73–87. 6. Lu Xing’er, Tiansheng shige nüren (天生是个女人, Born Woman). Taiyuan: Beiyue wenyi chubanshe, 1991, pp. 122–137. 7. Lu Xing’er, Yige nüren de yitai xi, pp. 98–136. 8. Ibid., pp. 73–87. 9. In Lu Xing’er, Tiansheng shi ge nüren, pp. 122–137. 10. Lu Xing’er, “Dead End for a Hero” (Yingxiong molu, 英雄末路), in Sheng shi zhenshi de (生是真实的 , Life Is Real), Changchun: Jilin renmin chubanshe, 1998, pp. 200–203. 11. Lu Xing’er and Chen Sihe (陈思和), “Wo ‘tong’ shenme: Lu Xing’er fangtan” (我“痛”什么:陆星儿访 谈, What Is My Pain: An Interview with Lu Xing’er), Shanghai wenxue (上海文学), 10, 2004: 4–10.

Translations into English “The One and the Other” (trans. Joyce Soong), in Zhu Hong (trans. and ed.), The Serenity of Whiteness: Stories by and about Women in Contemporary China. New York: Ballantine Books, 1991, pp. 208–226. Also in Chinese Literature, Winter (1990): 60–73. “The Sun Is Not Out Today” (Zhu Hong trans. and ed.), ibid., pp. 188–207. Oh! Blue Bird. Beijing: Panda Books, 1993. The Mountain Flowers Have Bloomed Quietly. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 2005. Ah, Blue Bird (trans. Wu Yanting). New York: Better Link Press, 2010.

LU XINHUA (卢新华, B. 1954) Father of Scar Literature Lu Xinhua’s greatest contribution to contemporary Chinese literature is his debut story “The Scar” (伤痕, or “The Wound”),1 which coined the name of the literary trend “Scar Literature” (伤痕 文学, Shanghen wenxue, translated as Wound Literature or Literature of the Wounded) that dominated the Chinese literary scene from the late


1970s to the early 1980s. In a narrow sense, Scar Literature is characterized by the exposure of previously forbidden topics of human tragedies caused by the Cultural Revolution. Broadly speaking, the term refers to those post-Mao literary works dealing with the suffering inflicted by CCP rule. It marks the beginning of a new literature liberating from oppression. Its historical significance is analogous to Ilyá Ehrenburg’s novel The Thaw (1954) in Soviet literature, after Stalin. The short story “The Scar” appeared on August 11, 1978, in Wenhui Daily (Wenhui bao, 文汇报) in Shanghai, three months after the appearance of the new slogan “Practice is the sole criterion of testing truth” (实践为检验真理的唯一标准), which generated the “thought liberation” (sixiang jiefang, 思想解放) movement.2 Its appearance also coincided with the Democracy Wall in Beijing and the new leadership’s rehabilitation of those who had been wrongly persecuted. A native of Rugao County (如皋县) in Jiangsu Province, Lu Xinhua belongs to the generation brought up under the Red Flag. His father, who served in the army, was transferred to Changdao County (长岛县), Shangdong Province, when Lu Xinhua was nine years old. Four years later, the family returned to Rugao County, where Lu Xinhua continued his education in Rugao Middle School. His favorable family background made it possible for him to join the PLA in 1971. In 1977, he was discharged from the army and worked in a diesel engine factory in Nantong (南通), a city north of Shanghai, across the Yangtze River. He sat the newly reinstated university entrance examination in the winter of 1977 and entered Fudan University in Shanghai, majoring in Chinese literature. After graduation in 1982, he worked as an editor for Wenhui Daily (Wenhui bao, 文汇报). Lu Xinhua left China in 1986 and received an MA in East Asian Studies from the University of California at Los Angeles. He stayed in the United States after graduation. According to the recollections of Lu Xinhua’s classmate, Zhang Shengyou (张胜友), Lu Xinhua was inspired to write “The Scar” by a professor’s remark on Lu Xun’s (鲁迅) story “New Year Sacrifice” (祝 福 , Zhufu) that the tragedy of Xianglin’s wife (祥林嫂) is not so much that her son is eaten by a wolf but that she is victimized by feudal thinking. From this remark, Lu Xinhua made the connection that, “the tragedy of China was not that the Cultural Revolution had pushed her into poverty, but that it had inflicted mental

and physical wounds upon the Chinese people.”3 He wrote “The Scar” in one night and, after its completion, he read it to his classmates and, in April 1978, he pasted the story on the bulletin wall on campus. It was like a bombshell. It immediately attracted a large crowd. They were shocked to read any depiction of suffering, inflicted by the Cultural Revolution in particular, and to read anything at all negative about Chinese society after 1949. People from outside the campus flocked to read the story, copied it, and spread it. After much deliberation among the editors, the story appeared in Wenhui Daily on August 11, 1978. The newspaper sold out quickly, and 1.5 million additional copies were printed. Lu Xinhua became famous overnight. “The Scar” touched the hearts of those coming out of the misery of the Cultural Revolution. The female protagonist, Wang Xiaohua (王晓华), now 25 years old, is on a night train returning to Shanghai after nine years of rustication. At the beginning of the story, her gazing at herself in the mirror in the middle of the night—an action considered petty bourgeois in Maoist literature— signals the return of self-identity and self-reflection. It signals the bourgeoning of the “I” literature and the decline of the “We” literature. The narrative unfolds through Xiaohua’s flashbacks. Her fanatical involvement in the Red Guards at 16, her breaking off relations with her mother (after her mother had been condemned as a “traitor”), her repeated refusal to open the letters and parcels from her mother, and her boyfriend being warned to break off relations with her because of her bad background, all return to haunt her. Now, after the fall of the Gang of Four, she is returning to Shanghai to see her mother, whose name has been rehabilitated. What awaits her, however, is not a happy reunion. Her mother has passed away in hospital before her arrival. The scar on her mother’s forehead—the key image of the narrative–gives the name to the story, and to the literary trend. The ending of the narrative is contrived: it turns out that her boyfriend, Xiaolin (小林) had earlier returned to Shanghai and had cared for Wang Xiaohua’s mother before her death. The narrative closes with a “bright-tail” device—which was demanded by the censors—with the lovers making a pledge to each other to thank Chairman Hua Guofeng (华国锋, Mao’s successor) for his kindness and to devote themselves to the cause of the party (pp. 23–24). Despite its defects, this story was the


first to depict genuine love and the negative consequences caused by the Cultural Revolution. It aroused great controversy nationwide: If socialist society is so perfect, why is there tragedy? What caused the daughter to break off relations with the mother? What is behind the family tragedies that number in the millions? If there is tragedy, why can’t one write about it? Isn’t “practice [is] the sole criterion of testing truth?” From the publication of “The Scar” in August 1978 to the spring of 1979, stories concerning human suffering inflicted by the Cultural Revolution—by specifically referring to followers of the Gang of Four as the perpetrators instead of Mao and the regime—flooded the newly revived Chinese literary scene. In spring 1979, the party hardliners condemned these works as “Exposé Literature” (Baolu wenxue, 暴露文学), which supposedly only exists in bourgeois society according to Mao’s 1942 Yan’an Talks. They called for “Forward Looking Literature” (xiangqian kan wenxue, 向前看文学), which stresses forgetting about the past (e.g. the Cultural Revolution) and looking forward to the future. However, as the wave of “thought liberation” became prevalent, the voice of opposition soon subsided, and Scar Literature was officially recognized. For the first time since 1949, the writer, the reader, and the critic were on the same wavelength. Lu Xinhua wrote diligently and published more than a dozen short stories, a novella (“Demon” [Mo, 魔]) and a novel (Dream in a Forest [Senlin zhi meng, 森林之梦, 1986]). However, with the emergence of many works breaking into the forbidden zones, these works did not arouse much attention. Completed in October 1979, “Demon” is a critique of political dogmatism and the damage it does to people’s thinking and behavior, using the suicide of a brigade leader who blindly abides by slogans. For instance, he forbids his wife to wear colorful clothes because he considers it bourgeois. In 1998, after a long absence from the Chinese literary scene, Lu Xinhua reemerged with the novella “Details” (Xijie, 细节, Zhongshan, 6, 1998), which depicts the futile struggle of a Chinese student nicknamed Details in his search for love and a stable life in the United States. The narrative makes effective use of the defamiliarization technique through the character’s experiences in New York and Los Angeles. The fatal car accident that kills Details ironically happens after he has solved his mental problems. In Lu Xinhua’s symbolically titled novel Forbidden Woman (Zijin

nü, 紫禁女, 2004), the first-person narrator Shi Yu (石玉, Stone Jade) is devastated after she finds out that she has a hypoplastic vagina and the condition will return, even if an operation is successful. This puts her in a constant state of anxiety and affects her relationships with men. In 2010, Lu Xinhua published the long essay “Wealth is Just Like Water” (Caifu rushui, 财富 如水), which was derived from his seven years’ experience working in a casino in Los Angeles. Using different metaphors of water, the work is critical of those who lose their minds chasing after money and material gain. Although Lu Xinhua has made progress in his writing, it is ironic that his works will continue to be overshadowed by his debut story, “The Scar.”

Notes 1. Translated and edited by Geremie Barmé and Bennett Lee, in The Wounded: New Stories of the Cultural Revolution, 77–78. Hong Kong: Joint Publishing, 1979, pp. 9–24. 2. Guangming Daily, May 11, 1978. 3. See “Zhang Shengyou: Probing the Nation’s Troubles,” in Laifong Leung, Morning Sun: Interviews with Chinese Writers of the Lost Generation. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1994, p. 249.

Translations into English “The Wounded,” in Geremie Barmé and Bennett Lee (trans. and eds.), The Wounded: New Stories of the Cultural Revolution. Hong Kong: Joint Publishing, 1979, pp. 9–24; also translated as “The Scar,” in Prize-winning Stories from China, 1978–1979. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1981, pp. 108–122; and “The Wound,, Chinese Literature, March (1979): 25–38.

LU YAO (路遥, 1949–1992) Caught between Rural and Urban No Chinese writer was affected so profoundly by poverty than Lu Yao, and no Chinese writer has been so obsessed about the inequalities between urban and rural than Lu Yao. Lu Yao, the penname of Wang Weiguo (王卫国), was born into a poor peasant family in Qingjian (清涧) of Yunlin (榆林), Shaanxi Province, and was adopted by his uncle (who lived in Yanchuan County, 延川县, in the same province). The pain of leaving home


owing to poverty at the age of seven affected him profoundly. Lu Yao suffered many hardships in his struggles for survival and education. His stepparents were not well-to-do peasants and could only support him through elementary school. In 1963, he was among the 100 students chosen from several thousand candidates by the county middle school. With the help of his friends, who shared their food with him, he managed to finish junior middle school. Besides hunger, he was also harassed by classmates from urban and cadre backgrounds. He internalized these humiliations, and his strong will to overcome difficulties was later externalized in his rural protagonists. The trying times of his teenage years were vividly portrayed in his 1981 autobiographical novella “Those Difficult Days” (Zai kunnan de rizi li, 在 困难的日子里, Dangdai, 3, 1981). The desire to regain his pride might explain why he immediately joined the Red Guards when the Cultural Revolution broke out in 1966. Because of his organizational ability, he quickly became leader of a faction and rose to the powerful position of vice-chairman of the Revolutionary Committee of Yanchuan County. After his faction lost power in 1969, he returned to his birth father’s village, where he taught elementary school, did farm work, and took temporary jobs in the county seat. In the same year, his first poem on learning from Dazhai (大寨, a model brigade during the Cultural Revolution) appeared on the blackboard in a commune in Yanchuan County. In August 1972, he completed a seven-scene revolutionary opera The Ninth Team (Di jiu zhidui, 第九支队), which is about transporting grain for the PLA during the civil war in 1947.1 His first published work was the short story “Victorious Red Flag” (Yousheng hongqi, 优胜红旗, Shaanxi wenyi, 3, 1973). In the fall of 1973, he joined the CCP and was recommended to enter Yan’an University, majoring in Chinese literature. After he graduated in 1976, he was assigned to work as editor for the journal Yanhe (延河, Yan River, formerly Shaanxi Wenyi [陕西文艺, Shaanxi Literature & Art]). In 1982, he became a professional writer. After Mao’s death, Lu Yao made quick adjustments in subject matter, rhetoric, and thought. In the next few years, he wrote a handful of short stories and novellas and was among the few writers to emerge from northern Shaanxi Province in the late 1970s. In 1980, after several rejections, Lu Yao published the fictionalized chronicle “A Soul-Stirring Scene” (Jingxin dongpo de yimu:

1967 nian jishi, 惊心动魄的一幕: 1967年纪事 ), which was based on a real incident. It concerns a high-ranking cadre, Ma Yanxiong (马延雄), who sacrificed himself to stop factional fights during the Cultural Revolution. It is a thoughtful reflection on the chaos and madness of the Cultural Revolution. Competing to gain control of the county, the leaders of each faction resorted to violence. Ma Yanxiong did not hide in the safe place provided by his supporters; he stepped out, hoping to negotiate peace between the two factions. However, he was beaten to death by members of the other faction. Zheng Yi’s (郑义) short story “Maple” (Feng, 枫), which appeared in February 1979, had been the first work to focus on factional fights among urban Red Guards, and Lu Yao’s “A Soul-Stirring Scene” was among the earliest works in novella form to deal with factional fights in rural China. It won an award in the National Best Novellas competition (1977–1980). It is a pity that Lu Yao did not continue to make use of his Cultural Revolution experience in his later fiction.

Between the City and the Village: Exploring the “in-between” space Lu Yao is best known for his works dealing with the ambitions, frustrations, and dilemmas of rural youths in their struggles for self-realization in the city. In their paths to success, Lu Yao deals, not only with their adventures in the city, but, more importantly, with their inner attachment and moral obligation to the native soil. What emerges is a narrative space that connects the rural and the urban in which Lu Yao expresses his predilections. As most stories about rustication were written by the Zhiqing, Lu Yao’s rural background provides a peasant’s perspective. When the peasant returns his gaze as the master of the land, the urban outsider (Zhiqing) will appear in a different light. In “Green Pine and Little Red Flower” (Qingsong yu xiao honghua, 青松与小红花 , completed in August 1979),2 the female Zhiqing protagonist is rescued by a peasant youth and his mother. The peasantry here are portrayed as protectors of the exiled urban youth. Another story, “Elder Sister’s Love” (Jiejie de aiqing, 姐姐的爱情),3 is told by a village boy. His Elder Sister falls in love with a sentdown youth whose father, a high-ranking cadre, is being persecuted. The whole family protects him, in spite of his political problems. However, after the young man’s father resumes office, he goes to


university and, under pressure from his snobbish parents, drops Elder Sister. Lu Yao expresses his view through the indignation of Elder Sister’s father: “The earth doesn’t look down upon us, yes, we will use our labor and sweat to create our own happiness” (p. 16). Lu Yao tends morally to favor the rural over the urban, even though his characters are eager to move to the city. This paradox permeates Lu Yao’s fiction. In the short story “Waxed Plum in Wind and Snow” (Fengxue lamei, 风雪腊梅),4 a certain urban official wants his son to marry a beautiful village girl by giving her a job in a city hotel. Once she finds out his real intention, she refuses the offer and returns to the village. Her lofty action is symbolized by the image of “plum flowers in snow.” Sadly and ironically, her rural boyfriend gives her up in exchange for the official’s offer of a city job. The city as a place of desire, hence, becomes a symbolic touchstone of the character’s love and morality. In the novella “You Would Not Have Imagined” (Ni zenme ye xiang budao, 你怎么也想 不到),5 the narrative comprises a series of alternating monologues by two lovers. Both of them are from the countryside and both attend university in a city, and now they are on the eve of graduation with state job assignments approaching. The male protagonist, talented at writing, wants to stay in the city after he gets a job on a prestigious literary journal. But the female protagonist, who has majored in forestry, wants to go and contribute her knowledge to rural construction. Each tries to persuade the other, but to no avail. So they decide to go their separate ways. It is at this juncture that Lu Yao’s predilection for the rural comes in. Despite hardship and loneliness in the desert, the female protagonist succeeds in growing mulberry trees in an irrigated district works. By contrast, the male protagonist, unable to resist urban temptations (represented here by Western-style food, dance parties, and a fashionable woman dancer), loses his stance. The narrative ends in a contrived manner with the male protagonist contemplating joining the female in the countryside. The aspirations and frustrations of rural youth undoubtedly occupy the central place in Lu Yao’s writing. In his poignant novella “Life” (Rensheng, 人生, Shuohuo, 3, 1982; film 1984), which took him two years to write and which won the National Best Novellas competition (1981–1982), was a breakthrough in his career. It is set in the

late 1970s in northern Shaanxi Province. The narrative has a strong beginning in which Gao Jialin (高加林) is returning home, furious and humiliated, because he has lost his teaching job to the son of a local cadre. The loud thunder and heavy rain effectively symbolize the stormy mood of the hero. He gains sympathy and love from Liu Qiaozhen (刘巧珍), an illiterate girl with exceptional beauty and a kind heart. Gao’s fate takes a dramatic turn when his uncle, who has been away in the army for decades, suddenly returns as a high-ranking official in the county seat. Gao unexpectedly gets a job as a reporter in the county seat, unaware that it is actually the local cadre’s scheme to make up for his selfish act of dismissing Gao from his teaching job. This gives Gao a chance to show his writing talent—he soon becomes known in the county seat. Another temptation of the city comes to Gao: his former classmate Huang Yaping (黄亚萍), a radio broadcaster, is infatuated with him and breaks up with her steady boyfriend. Gao is in a dilemma—whether to marry Qiaozhen (who is illiterate and rural) or Huang Yaping (who is educated and urban). Eager to establish himself in the city, Gao decides, painfully, to give up Qiaozhen, though he loves her more. Qiaozhen, heartbroken, quickly accepts a marriage proposal from a persistent rural suitor whom she does not love. The momentum of the narrative picks up at this point. The angry mother of Huang Yaping’s ex-boyfriend goes to expose Gao’s entering the city through the backdoor. Gao’s dream is shattered. Now it is his turn to be abandoned, not only by the new girlfriend, but also by the city. Lu Yao’s voice is expressed through the old man in the village who comforts Gao, saying that the native soil will not abandon him. “Life” established Lu Yao’s fame. Letters poured in in thousands. There were heated discussions surrounding the portrayals of the central characters, particularly the hero, Gao Jialin. The questions include: Is Gao a careerist? Is it immoral for the ambitious Gao to abandon the illiterate Qiaozhen who loves him so dearly? Will they be happy if they get married, considering the difference in education level? Is Huang Yaping a better choice for Gao? What is the main cause of Gao’s misfortune? The novella was made into a film, directed by Wu Tianming (吴天明, 1939–2014) of Xi’an Film Studio (1984), which won the Best Film and Best Actress prizes at the 1985 Hawaii Film Festival.


“Life” is a tale of border crossing. The portrayal of Gao Jialin is by far the most outstanding of China’s rural youths who try to make their way to the city to fulfill their dreams. The obstacles the hero faces obviously are not caused by his lack of ability, but by the urban–rural division of the Chinese population, imposed by the government and enforced, often, by manipulative local officials. This policy did not loosen up until the 1990s.

Extraordinary Heroes in an Ordinary World: Lu Yao’s only novel Lu Yao’s last and largest work was his 1-millionword, three-part novel An Ordinary World (Pingfan de shijie, 平凡的世界, 1989), which took him two years of research (he read years of newspapers and visited coal mines, factories, schools, markets, and high-level cadres’ homes) and four years of writing. After the completion of Part I in 1986, it was well received and made into a radio play and stage play. By the time he completed Part II, Lu Yao’s health was already declining. He pressed on until he finished the entire novel in 1989. In March 1991, the novel won the Mao Dun Literary Prize, with a unanimous vote. From the winter of 1991 to spring 1992, despite failing health, he completed a 60,000-word essay, “Morning Begins with Noon”(Zaochen cong zhongwu kaishi, 早晨从中午开始),6 recounting the writing process of An Ordinary World. In August 1992, he decided to return to Yanchuan County, but, as soon as he got off the train, he was hospitalized. As his liver disease worsened, on September 5, he was transferred back to Xi’an. He passed away on November 17, 1992, at the age of 42.7 An Ordinary World covers rural China from 1975 to 1985, a period of great political and social change. It follows the journeys of his characters from the Sun (孙), Tian (田), and Jin (金) families in Double River Village (Shuangshui cun, 双水村) in northern Shaanxi Province. The hero, Sun Shaoping (孙少平), and his elder brother, Sun Shaoan (孙少安), can be seen as the split selves of Gao Jialin in “Life.” While Shaoping continues Gao Jialin’s pursuit by crossing borders—first to work in the city as a laborer, and then in a coal mine—his elder brother Shaoan stays in the countryside, builds a kiln, and finally makes his fortune by dint of hard work, and is supportive of the

fellow villagers. While Shaoping tries to establish a love relationship with his intellectual soul mate Tian Xiaoxia (田晓霞, who is analogous to Huang Yaping in “Life”), Shaoan marries a kind village woman, Xiulian (秀 莲 , who is analogous to Qiaozhen), who supports his dream of becoming a benevolent entrepreneur. The two brothers’ ambitions and struggles are tied to the changes in rural China—the end of the People’s Commune System, the introduction of the Agricultural Responsibility System, the Four Modernizations, and the economic reform. Lu Yao’s cadre characters are generally stereotyped as good guys. His female characters are idealized in their beauty, gentleness, and intelligence. Though the hero Shaoping finally settles down with a fellow coal miner’s widow, Lu Yao has been criticized for unrealistically having a coal miner with a middle school education gaining the love of Tian Xiaoxia, a university graduate, and, after her tragic death by drowning, of Jin Xiu (金秀), a physician. Though not without its defects, An Ordinary World has been continuously ranked among the most popular novels since its publication (1989). A survey of the reading habits of Chinese readers from 1978 to 1998 reveals that, from 1985 to 1989, An Ordinary World was the only book from the post-Mao period ranked among the most influential, the others being the Chinese classics; from 1990 to 1992, the novel was one of the top five and, from 1993 to 1998, one of the top six.8 Several times, the survey by Chinese Book Reading News has ranked the novel high on the list of China’s 100 favorite books from the 20th century.9 Lu Yao’s iron determination and the idealism of his central characters continued and will continue to inspire his readers, particularly young readers of rural origin. Lu Yao’s fiction about rural youths venturing into the city actually anticipates the appearance of Workers’ Literature (Dagong wenxue, 打工文学) toward the end of the 20th century, which is written by workers who have migrated from inland provinces to the coastal cities. For Lu Yao, literature does not follow the rule of evolution. A work of postmodernism is not necessarily superior to one of modernism. Lu Yao has published some essays, more than ten short stories, six novellas, and one long novel in three parts. His works have been translated into English and French.


Notes 1. “Wo laohan zou zhou jiu xiang pao” (我老汉走着就 想跑, I Want to Run While Walking), Lu Yao quanji: duanpian xiaoshuo, juben, shige (路遥全集:短篇小说 ,剧本,诗歌, Complete Works of Lu Yao: Short Stories, Plays, and Poetry). Guangzhou: Guangzhou chubanshe & Taibai wenyi chubanshe, 2000, pp. 321–363. 2. In Dangdai jishi (当代纪事, Contemporary Records). Chongqing: Chongqing chubanshe, 1983, pp. 1–28. 3. In Jiejie de aiqing (姐姐的爱情, Elder Sister’s Love). Beijing: Zhongguo qingnian chubanshe, 1985, pp. 1–16. 4. In Jiejie de aiqing (Elder Sister’s Love), ibid., pp. 17–27. 5. In Jiejie de aiqing (Elder Sister’s Love), ibid., pp. 238–390. 6. “Zaocheng cong zhengwu kaishi” (早晨从正午开始, Morning Begins at Noon), published in Lu Yao quanji: sanwen, suibi, shuxin (路遥全集:散文、随笔 、书信, Complete Works of Lu Yao: Essays, Jottings, Letters). Guangzhou: Guangzhou chubanshe & Taibai wenyi chubanshe, 2000, pp. 3–97. 7. See Xing Xiaoli’s (邢小莉) 1993 account, “Cong xiatian dao qiutian: Lu Yao zuihou de suiyue” (从夏

天到秋天:路遥最后的岁月, From Summer to Autumn: The Last Months of Lu Yao), in Xing Xiaoli 邢小莉 and Li Jianjun (李建军, eds.), Lu Yao pinglun ji (路遥 评论集, Critical Essays on Lu Yao). Beijing: Renmin

wenxue chubanshe, 2007, pp. 165–185. 8. See Shao Yanjun (邵燕君), “‘Pingfan de shijie’ bu pingfan: ‘xianshi zhuyi changxiao shu’ de shengchan moshi fenxi” (平凡的世界“不平凡”: “现实主义畅销书” 的生产模式分析, An Ordinary World Is Not Ordinary: An Analysis of the Mode of Production of “the Best Selling of Realist Books,”, in Lu Yao pinglun ji, Beijing: Remin wenxue chubanshe, 2007, pp. 309–22, p. 310. 9. Liang Xiangyang (梁向阳), “Lu Yao yanjiu shuping” (路遥研究述评, An Overview of the Study of Lu Yao), in Lu Yao Pinglunji, pp. 323–337, p. 336.

Translations into English “An Old Eighth Route Army Man Comes to Yan’an” (trans. Ku-chi Tsao), Chinese Literature, November (1972): 55–58. A Soul-stirring Scene (trans. Shen Ning). Iowa City, IA: University of Iowa Press, 1986.

M MA YUAN (马原, B. 1953) Creator of Labyrinths Ma Yuan, a leading figure of the avant-garde movement that emerged in the mid-1980s, was the first Chinese writer to revolutionize the conventional narrative techniques. With metafiction, Ma Yuan turned the issue of “what to write” to “how to write” in literary practice, which influenced a whole generation of avant-garde writers. Such an awakening was particularly significant in the context of contemporary Chinese literature. Since Mao’s Yan’an Talks (1942), Chinese literature had been required to serve politics, which led to the emphasis on content rather than artistic technique. Even though, in 1982, this was replaced by the new slogan “Two Serves” (er wei, 二为, which means literature and art serve the people, and literature and art serve socialism), the question of technique was not mentioned. Only with the onset of the avant-garde movement did literature as an independent artistic pursuit become legitimate. The emergence of Ma Yuan coincided with the influx of foreign works after decades of isolation. Chinese writers were particularly excited to read the translated works of William Faulkner, Jorge Luis Borges, and Gabriel García Márquez. The metafictional narratives of Borges (whose stories were first translated into Chinese in 1979, and a collection of his stories in 1983) particularly had a great impact on Ma Yuan. Ma Yuan was the first Chinese writer to enthusiastically experiment with metafictional technique, which Shanghai literary critic Wu Liang (吴亮) referred to as “narrative labyrinth” (xushu quantao, 叙述圈套).1 Ma Yuan’s postmodernist fiction is characterized by a frequent shift of narrative perspective.

He gives a dominant role to the narrator. His narrator(s) may negotiate with readers, may include seemingly unconnected episodes, and may leave gaps for readers to fill in themselves. His narrator explicitly informs his readers that he is making up a story, and that even the character he is portraying may not exist. He blurs the line between the narrator and the author. All in all, he deconstructs the conventional mode of narration. The often-quoted beginning line of the novella “Fabrication” (Xugou, 虚构, Shouhuo, 1, 1987) exemplifies Ma Yuan’s mode of narration: “I am the person Ma Yuan; I write fiction, I like to let my imagination go wild, and my stories are somewhat startling.” All these features make Ma Yuan’s writing a new phenomenon. Ma Yuan was born in the city of Jinzhou (锦州), Hebei Province. As his great-grandfather was a big landlord, he was labeled a member of the “five black categories.” In 1970, after graduation from junior middle school, he was sent to a farm by the Bohai Sea (渤海湾). He was interested in literature in school and began writing in 1971, mainly about his rusticated life. In 1974, he was recommended to attend the Shenyang Railway and Transportation Institute and, upon graduation, worked as a welder in Fuxin County (阜新县). In 1977, he passed the newly reinstated university entrance exam and entered Liaoning University, majoring in Chinese literature. After graduation in 1982, he volunteered to go to Lhasa, capital of Tibet, a decision considered unusually adventurous at the time. For three and a half years, he worked as reporter and editor at the Tibetan People’s Broadcasting Station, before transferring to a literary journal. His unique experiences in Tibet would later be an important source of his writing. In fact, his most important works were


written in Tibet. He stayed in Tibet until January 1989 and then moved to Shenyang, Liaoning Province, to become a professional writer in Shenyang Literary Institute. Ma Yuan stopped publishing fiction after 1991, at the height of his career. This puzzled his readers. In his preface to the story collection Fabrication (Xugou, 虚构, 1992), he revealed that, since he left Tibet in 1989, his life had been unsteady. The only writing he did was a stage play and a TV adaptation of his Zhiqing stories. After his divorce from his writer wife Pipi (皮皮), he went to do business on Hainan Island. In 1992, he launched a huge project that involved making a television series entitled, “Multiple Voices: Chinese Literary Dreams,” to document the lives and works of 120 contemporary Chinese writers active in the 1980s. In 2000, he began teaching in the Department of Chinese Literature in Tongji University (同济大学), Shanghai. He published several books, such as Close Reading of the Canons (Xidu jingdian, 细读经典), based on his lectures. In 2004, he wrote a film script based on two stories—“The Poetics of Death” (Siwang de shiyi, 死亡的诗意), which deals with an extramarital relationship that ends with the female protagonist being accidentally burnt to death in Lhasa, and “Wandering Spirit” (Youshen, 游神),2 which deals with a mysterious Tibetan in the antique business. Ma Yuan’s most important works have two typical settings and two subjects. The first group of works is derived from his Red Guard and rustication experiences during the Cultural Revolution, and the second deals with his encounters with Tibetans and Tibetan culture, and the life of the Han people in Tibet. The linkage between these two subjects is through the narrator Ma Yuan and the characters Lu Gao (陆高) and Yao Liang (姚亮), who may be considered as Ma Yuan’s split selves. In essence, Ma Yuan’s fiction is the record of his own journey, both physical and spiritual, from his first trip to Beijing at 13, to the grim years in the countryside, and to the encounters in Tibet and after. On the road is a key motif in Ma Yuan’s fiction.

Grim Memories: The Red Guard Movement and rustication Ma Yuan’s autobiographical novella “Point Zero” (Ling gongli chu, 零公里处, 1985)3 is a Bildungsroman about a rebellious 13-year-old junior middle student Dayuan (大元), during the Red

Guard Movement (1966–1968). Told by a 26year-old writer–narrator, it includes fragments of memories of mostly his first impressions, which he regarded as the essential truth. “Point Zero” is a disjointed record of a teenager’s playful journey. For instance, instead of mechanically praising the Memorial Statue of the People’s Heroes, Ma Yuan subverts it: He regretted deeply afterwards. He regretted that he touched the fences surrounding the marble statue. If he had not been so close to it, he would not have seen the rotten fruit peels; if he had not touched it, he would not have noticed that the marbles were mere stones, dirty stones. All had destroyed his good impression of that piece of architecture. (p. 34) He thought he had discovered the spot that his friends believed to be the starting point of all roads leading to the rest of China. Then, ironically, he suddenly realized that the black dot was actually the dot of a large question mark painted on the ground. (This particular episode, which records Ma Yuan’s youthful disillusionment, reappears at the beginning of Ma Yuan’s 2012 autobiographical novel, Ox, Demon, Snake, and Spirit [Niu gui she shen, 牛鬼蛇神].) Ma Yuan began his writing career with Zhiqing fiction. His Zhiqing characters are characteristically aloof, cynical, and gloomy. His 1982 short story “Another World by the Seashore” (Hai zhebian yeshi yige shijie, 海这边也是一个世界),4 set on a remote farm 10 km from the Bohai Sea, forms a world “painted by an unfeeling painter” (p. 100). Ma Yuan, for the first time, creates his divided self through the recurrent characters Lu Gao (陆高) and Yao Liang (姚亮); both have become irrational because of extreme loneliness, malnutrition, and the absence of intellectual stimulation. Lu Gao becomes erratic and even kills his own dog for daring to fight a military dog. Ma Yuan’s first novel, Everywhere the Road Is Level (Shangxia dou hen pingtan, 上下都很平坦, 1987), presents a grim picture of rustication as being plagued by gambling, theft, fights, rapes, and death, and some female Zhiqing are forced to marry local cadres. The first-person narrator’s early remark that, “there are many unjust deaths among us” sets the gloomy tone of the narrative. Six of them die tragically. Of the female Zhiqing, one drowns in a well after being raped, and another hangs herself after a public humiliation.


Among the male Zhiqing, one dies in fights with peasants, and another is killed in a train accident. The author does not go into the details of these tragic events, nor does he dwell on the characters’ emotional fluctuations, but he uses time lapses and unexpected revelations of their deaths to create a shocking effect, showing the unpredictability and the absurdity of fate. However, while Ma Yuan enthusiastically experiments with his metafictional technique (such as the recurrent remark of “many years later” borrowed from Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude), he has forgotten that this will give the impression of trivializing the magnitude of the disaster.

Tibetan Experiences: Living with the Other with respect and beyond Tibet is Ma Yuan’s most important source of inspiration, as he said in a preface: Even though I have left Tibet for a long time, deep inside, it is still my most treasured experience. When I look back, the period of the 1980s is still glamorous. Other than the fact that it was the last stage of my youth, it remains the most vigorous stage of my life. [. . .] When I first arrived in Tibet, I felt the lack of oxygen. After I left Tibet, the longer away I am from it, the more I feel also the “lack of oxygen.” In the first few years after my return, I had some problems of adjustment. Gradually, I discovered that whenever I felt anxious, I wanted to return to Tibet.5 Ma Yuan made trips to Tibet every two to three years. Though Ma Yuan began publishing fiction in 1982, it was his 1984 short story “Goddess of Lhasa River” (Lasa he de nüshen, 拉萨河女神)6 that gained attention, owing to his unconventional narration. It is not a plot-based story, as was the case in many works of the time. The first-person narrator, who is the editor of a magazine, describes a picnic with his 13 Han colleagues on the bank of Lhasa River. Referring to these colleagues by a number, not by name, the narrator turns the reader’s attention to the picnic activities, not the people. The relaxed scene is embellished by the seemingly unconnected appearance of the young Tibetan girls who are washing clothes nearby, embodying the Goddess of Lhasa River.

Ma Yuan’s depiction of Tibet is from the point of view of a Han person. His 1985 novella “Temptations of Gangtise” (Gangdisi de youhuo, 冈底斯的诱惑)7 attracted attention because of the exotic nature of the topic and the unusual way of telling a story. The polyphonic narrative contains 16 sections, told by the author–narrator Ma Yuan and an old Han soldier (who came to Tibet in the 1950s). The old soldier’s tale, the celestial burial, and the legend about Dunzhu (顿珠) and Dunyue (顿月) appear on the surface to be unrelated, and yet, they are connected by geographical setting and Tibetan culture. Ma Yuan shows great respect and admiration for Tibetan values. For instance, author–narrator Ma Yuan is critical of his friends Lu Gao (陆高), Yao Liang (姚亮), and Xiao He (小 何), who get too close to the celestial burial site to see if the dead person is the Tibetan woman they just met a few days before. The author–narrator also asserts: It is not enough just to respect the form of their customs; I love them; and in order to truly understand them, I have to go into their world. You know, their entire life is based in mysticism, and their daily life is inseparable from myths. Myths are not mere decorations of their lives, they are their lives; myths are their reasons for existence and their basis. (p. 136) Ma Yuan admires the Tibetan’s respect for nature. His novella “No Sailing Boats in the West Sea” (Xihai de wu fanchuan, 西 海 的 无 帆 船 , Shouhuo, 5, 1985) depicts a seven-day adventure of Ma Yuan (the intrusive narrator), his friends Lu Gao and Yao Liang, and several others, to the ancient site of Ali (阿里) in Tibet. When the truck is stuck in the middle of a shallow river, they have to camp by the river while waiting for help. It is from this point onward that the differences in attitudes toward nature between the Tibetans and the Han emerge. The serenity of the mountains, the rivers, the beautiful moon, and the quiet distant blue sky is suddenly destroyed by Xiao Bai’s (小白) violent shooting of animals. Ma Yuan’s friend Lu Gao, sensitive to the feelings of Dazha (大札), the Tibetan truck driver, tries to stop Xiao Bai, but in vain. Nature takes its revenge. Xiao Bai is punished by being wounded by an enraged wild ox. Even if he has left Tibet, Ma Yuan has never left Tibet psychologically, as shown in his story “Always on the Road” (Zong zai tuzhong, 总在

CONTEMPORARY CHINESE FICTION WRITERS 193 途中, Xiaoshuolin, 1–2, 1991). Not using his brand of metafictional technique, Ma Yuan tells, in a subdued tone, of the disappointment and alienation felt by a returnee. After seven years in Tibet, the painter protagonist Yao Liang (姚亮, Ma Yuan’s fictional self) returns to Shenyang, but finds himself lost at work and at home. Alienated from his wife and friends, he spends his time gambling in the street. Unable to solve his psychological problems, he even divorces his wife. He finds comfort in a woman he met in Lhasa, but this is no substitute for his deep-down nostalgia for the Tibet he left behind. In 2012, after 20 years of silence, Ma Yuan reemerged with his autobiographical novel Ox, Demon, Snake, and Spirit (Niu gui she shen, 牛鬼 蛇 神 ), which generated a heated discussion. Opinions are diverse: some lament that the original Ma Yuan has gone forever; others applaud his success in bringing his literary achievements together in one work. The novel contains four sections: Volume 0 is a direct borrowing of Dayuan’s (大元) story from his 1985 Bildungsroman “Point Zero”; Volume 1 focuses on the life of Li Desheng (李德胜 ), Dayuan’s friend, on Hainan Island; Volume 2 contains Dayuan’s Tibetan stories; and Volume 3 focuses on the life of Dayuan on Hainan Island. The novel can be regarded as a summing up of Ma Yuan’s journeys. In 2013, Ma Yuan’s novel Entanglement (Jiuchan, 纠缠), which appeared in the third issue of the literary journal October (Shiyue, 十月), shows a shift to dealing with a realistic social theme, through the desires and conflicts among three generations over the division of an inheritance. Has Ma Yuan come a full circle in his artistic pursuit? As revealed in his new work, he is moving ahead in a direction that combines his experimental technique with China’s new reality.

Notes 1. Wu Liang (吴亮), “Ma Yuan de xushu quantao” (马 原的叙述圈套 , Ma Yuan’s Narrative Labyrinth), Dangdai zuojia pinglun (当代作家评论), 3, 1987: 45–51, 61. 2. Published in Ma Yuan, Youshen (游神, Wandering Spirit). Hangzhou: Zhejiang wenyi chubanshe, 2001, pp. 65–114, 230–249. 3. Published in Ma Yuan, Gangdisi de youhuo (冈底斯 的诱惑, Temptations of Gangtise). Beijing: Zuojia chubanshe, 1992, pp. 24–84. 4. Ibid., pp. 99–117. 5. “Ma Yuan de Xizang fengjing” (马原的西藏风景, Ma Yuan’s Tibetan Scenery), in the collection Youshen (游神), Preface, pp. 1–2.

6. Published in Ma Yuan, Youshen, pp. 1–13. 7. Published in Ma Yuan, Gangdisi de youhuo, pp. 118–183.

Translations into English “The Cap” (trans. John Balcom), in Manoa (Honolulu), 1, 1–2, Fall (1989): 149–159. “Mistakes” (trans. Helen Wang), in Henry Zhao (ed.), The Lost Boat: Avant-Garde Fiction from China. London: Wellsweep, 1993, pp. 29–42. “Fabrications” (trans. J.Q. Sun), in Henry Zhao (ed.), ibid., pp. 101–144. “More Ways than One to Make a Kite” (trans. Zhu Hong), in Jing Wang (ed.), China’s Avant-Garde Fiction. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1998, pp. 246–263. Also, “Three Ways to Fold a Paper Hawk” (trans. Herbert Batt), Renditions, 63, Spring (2005): 109–127. “A Wandering Spirit” (trans. Caroline Mason), in Wang Jing (ed.), ibid., pp. 264–283. “Vagrant Spirit,” in Herbert Batt (trans. and ed.), Tales of Tibet: Sky Burials, Prayer Wheels and Wind Horses. Lanham, MD, and Boulder, CO: Rowman & Littlefield, 2001, pp. 5–22. “A Fiction,” in Herbert Batt, ibid., pp. 23–61. “Under the Spell of the Gangtise Mountains,” in Frank Stewart and Herbert Batt (trans. and (eds.), The Mystified Boat and Other New Stories from China. Special issue of Manoa: A Pacific Journal of International Writing, 15, 2 (Winter 2003). Honolulu, HI: University of Hawai’i Press. “The Black Road,” in Frank Stewart and Herbert J. Batt, ibid., pp. 74–82.

MAI JIA (麦家, B. 1964) Pioneer of Spy Fiction Mai Jia, pseudonym of Jiang Shouhu (蒋守浒), began writing in 1986, but, for a long time, he did not receive the attention he deserved. In the early years of the first decade of the 21st century, with the publication of his spy novels dealing with secret agents, decoders, and espionage, set from the Republican period to the Maoist period, and the television series and film based on three of his novels, he quickly became a household name and was referred to as “Father of China’s Spy Fiction.” In 2014, he attained international fame with the enthusiastic reception of the English translation of his novel Decoded ( Jiemi, 解密) published by Penguin.


Mai Jia was born in a big village called Jiangjia menkou (蒋家门口) in Fuyang (富阳), Zhejiang Province. Fuyang is the hometown of the famous writer Yu Dafu (郁达夫, 1896–1945, a representative romantic writer of the May Fourth period); it is also known because of the painting “Fuchun Mountain Ridge” (富春山居图) by Huang Gongwang (黄公望 , 1269–1354) of the Yuan dynasty. Mai Jia grew up in a peasant family. Because his maternal grandfather was a landlord and his father a Rightist, he suffered humiliation in school, so much so that he often skipped school. His father had to beat him to force him to go back. Years of humiliation nurtured his aloof temperament and an inferiority complex. Having no one to play with, and no one to talk to, he put all his thoughts and feelings in diaries, which he later realized was a good preparation for fiction writing. In 1981, Mai Jia was among the three students in his class who passed the university entrance examination. In 1983, he graduated from the PLA Engineering and Technology College (later renamed the PLA Information Engineering College), majoring in wireless and electrical studies. He was assigned to work in the Intelligence Service of the PLA, where he met a group of unusually intelligent people whose fates and emotional lives had been unknown to others. This page of his life later became an inspiration for his spy fiction. Mai Jia was heavily influenced by Borges. In spring 1987, he came across Borges’ short stories for the first time. He recalled later that Borges “totally changed my understanding of literature, and even the path of my life” (p. 6).1 Though Mai Jia began writing fiction in 1986, his first story, “Variation” (Biandiao, 变调, Kunlun, 1, 1988), did not get published until 1988, in the PLA magazine Kunlun. This was followed by his first novella, “Life’s Bermuda” (Rensheng Baimuda, 人生百慕达, Kunlun, 5, 1988), which resulted in his transfer to do office work. In 1991, Mai Jia graduated from the PLA Arts Institute (Jiefangjun yishu xueyuan, 解放军艺术学院) with a major in Chinese literature. After 17 years’ service in the army, Mai Jia was transferred, in 1997, to become editor at Chengdu Television, Sichuan Province, where he did TV screen writing. One contributing factor to Mai Jia’s success is that he understands Chinese readers’ great curiosity about state secrets, particularly the intelligence service. Another contributing factor is his background training in the PLA, based on which he let his imagination soar. Most important is his captivating narrative skill—his literary language,

well-controlled suspense and intricate labyrinth, logical psychological deduction, and his ability to portray characters, especially the decoding heroes. Mai Jia’s spy novels typically progress along two basic lines: one is the threat from the enemy, who uses secret codes to convey its dark schemes; the other is the breaking of those codes by the talented protagonist and/or his team. The enemy can be the Japanese during World War II, the Nationalist agents from Taiwan after the founding of the PRC, or the Russians in the 1960s. The protagonist and/or his team members have to decode the enemy ciphers on a tight schedule, and, at the same time, they have to deal with hidden enemies in many disguises. Foreigners play ambiguous roles. Sometimes, they appear as mentors and teachers of the protagonists; more often, they appear as secret agents trying to do harm to the state. The underlying force that motivates the actions of the characters is patriotism. However, Mai Jia does not stop at that. Besides showing historical irony through the tragic fates of the individual decoders, he also questions the orthodox view of history. Mai Jia often employs the Chinese-box technique to frame his tales. The first-person narrator, who poses as Mai Jia the author, or a reporter, happens to meet someone who knows the story of the protagonist, who had worked for the Intelligence Service. With the lifting of the bans on secret codes, the informer may reveal the tale of the agent(s) to the first-person author–narrator, or the first-person author–narrator may construct the tale based on the informer’s material. The firstperson narrator thus takes on the double role of listener and writer/reporter. Because the information is given by someone who knows the truth, or who has personally experienced the event, it gives enhanced verisimilitude to the narration. Using his training and experience, Mai Jia convincingly constructs his tales with the reader’s curiosity in mind. At the same time, he knows how to avoid getting into trouble for “leaking state secrets,” by setting his tales in unspecified geographical locations (for instance, the 701 Intelligence Service Headquarters, in a remote place where any stranger entering is blindfolded), by not telling the number of people on the staff, and by not giving details of the information. The narrative appears to be real in its fictional setting, but not tangible in reality. His characters, on different sides, are often placed in tight situations that require immediate, intelligent reactions. They are constantly alert to the minute changes in the


surroundings—the sound, the smell, the color, and even the slightest suspicious movements of those with whom they are in contact. Intrigues are a norm. Control is by fear. Hidden enemies or comrades are unpredictable, and surprises come without warning. Betrayal and loyalty may be revealed only upon death, or remain a Rashomon, the same event subject to different interpretations by different people. Mai Jia’s first and most influential novel, Decoded (Jiemi, 解密, 2002), took him more than ten years to complete. He first conceived the idea for the novel in 1991. Both his 1994 story “Purple Codes, Black Codes” (Zima heima, 紫码黑码) and his 1997 novella “Chen Huanan’s Notes” (Chen Huanan de biji, 陈华南的笔记, Qingnian wenxue, 8, 1997) would later be expanded to form the novel Decoded. Mai Jia also applies this method in the production of his other novels, such as Secret Plots (Ansuan, 暗算, 2006). In answer to criticism of this method of writing, he explained that, since childhood, because of political discrimination, he had developed an inferiority complex. He was always worried that he would make a mistake. As a result, he would write a short piece first and, if the response was good, he would write a longer piece (pp. 264–265).2 Decoded is a gripping novel, with a fusion of logical thinking and compassion. It is about the striking but tragic life of a special talent, Rong Jinzhen (容金珍 ), whose name metaphorically means Golden Treasure. Mai Jia uses three chapters to depict the unusual history of the Rong family—Rong Jinzhen’s grandmother, excelling in the use of the abacus, had studied in England, his uncle was a university president, and his teacher was an American agent. Rong Jinzhen is an idiosyncratic figure whose obsession is code-breaking, and he pays little attention to other aspects of life. He is recruited to work for the Intelligence Service 701. He works with full devotion, decoding even the most difficult purple codes. While working on the more difficult black codes, he loses his notebook, stolen on a train. This loss metaphorically implies the loss of his soul, which is his profession and his ability. Traumatized, he ends up in a mental hospital for the rest of his life. Even though the notebook is eventually found, and, using it, his colleague breaks the “black codes,” Rong Jinzhen never recovers from the trauma. The golden pearl is lost forever. Secret Plots (Ansuan, 暗算, 2003; television series, 2006), a winner of the Mao Dun Literary Prize (2008), is another success. The novel, which

contains three parts, again demonstrates Mai Jia’s ability to portray idiosyncratic characters with special talents for decoding and their gloomy life. In Part 1, “The Wind Listener” (Tingfeng zhe, 听 风者), Mai Jia creates Ah Bing (阿炳), a blind village youth with extraordinary hearing, who can distinguish myriad sounds, but who, like Rong Jinzhen, is incapable of handling everyday life. Ah Bing is recruited by 701 (Intelligence Service) and is successful in locating the secret radio stations set up by agents from Taiwan during the Korean War. His outstanding achievement, however, does not bring him a happy life. When he finds out (through his good hearing) that his nurse wife’s baby is not his, he commits suicide. What is doubly tragic is that he does not know that he is infertile, and the wife had no choice but to get pregnant by a physician. Part 2, “The Wind Observer” (Kan feng zhe, 看风者), focuses on Huang Yiyi (黄依依), a woman mathematician invited by Premier Zhou Enlai to return from the United States to serve China. She is assigned to break codes in 701, against her wishes. Her carefree personality is always at odds, not only with the system (which is symbolized metaphorically by 701), but also with her love and marriage. Another absurd yet probable incident shows the severity of the system. An officer who is asleep when his son takes a few pages of his documents to fold into airplanes is severely punished. The key character in Part 3, “The Wind Catcher” (Bufeng zhe, 捕风者), is Chen Erhu (陈二 湖), who spent his whole life breaking codes and never got out of it. Now retired, he cannot get used to his uneventful life, despite the attempts of his son and daughter to bring people to play Weiqi (Go) with him. When no one can beat him at the game, he gets bored and even shows signs of losing his mind. He only regains his spirit after returning to the work unit as a door guard. Mai Jia has created a person without self, except work. In the television version, the third part concentrates on the intelligent image of his father, the agent Qian Zhijiang (钱之江), who goes through an intense, ruthless investigation before he takes the sleeping pills. Even in death, he outwits his enemy. The Buddhist beads he swallowed before his death actually contain the secret messages for Yan’an. His physician wife gets the hint in his will and opens his stomach to find the beads. Here, Mai Jia skillfully fuses correct ideology with highly imaginative plots.


Sound of Wind (Fengsheng, 风声, 2007; film, 2009) is set in the Qiu Mansion (裘园) in scenic Hangzhou, in 1941, during the Sino-Japanese War. Mai Jia uses the preface to affirm the credibility of his novel. The event is related by Professor Pan (潘教授) to the author–narrator Mai Jia, who writes the tale. With a series of murders of officials from Japan and from the collaborative government led by Wang Jingwei (汪 精 卫 , 1883–1944), there is a suspicion that a secret agent called Old Ghost is hidden in the fivemember deciphering team. Without warning, these five members are detained in the Qiu Mansion for investigation, creating an immensely tense atmosphere in a confined space. Ma Jia demonstrates his imagination in the interactions between these characters. What makes the situation complex is that Old Ghost (whose identity is not revealed until the end) is actually a double agent, who secretly works for the underground communists. Tension is enhanced by the pressure of time—the investigator, the Japanese officer who is fluent in Chinese, must find out who Old Ghost is in two days, in order to arrest the underground communists attending a secret meeting. Li Ningyu (李宁 玉), who is Old Ghost, manages to paint some grasses of different lengths, which contain secret codes, before her death. The message is successfully decoded by her brother. The author–narrator does not stop here, however, but goes to Taiwan to interview Gu Xiaomeng (顾晓梦), one of the surviving members. To his surprise, Gu Xiaomeng claims she was the one to deliver the message to the communists, not Li Ningyu. This subverts Professor Pan’s tale. Who is telling the truth? Professor Pan or Gu Xiaomeng? There is no answer. The Rashomon remains, thereby destabilizing the certainty of history. The novel was awarded the Chinese Language Literature Prize and the 2007 Fiction Writer Prize. Mai Jia’s third novel, Wind Words (Fengyu, 风语, 2010; television series, 2011), creates yet another talented decoder, Chen Jiahu (陈家鹄), a mathematician who returned from the United States at the beginning of World War II. The firstperson author–narrator claims that he obtained the material from a member of the Dark Room (the Intelligence Service of the Nationalists in Chongqing) who defected to Yan’an. In this novel, the enemies are Wang Jingwei (汪精卫) and the Japanese. Unlike Rong Jinzhen in Decoded, Chen Jiahu is a scientist, with a strong sense of individuality. Moreover, what gives Lu Congjun (陆从骏), head of the Dark Room, a hard time is

that Chen Jiahu loves his Japanese wife Huizi (惠子) dearly, and he does not want to work for the Dark Room. How to win Chen Jiahu over becomes an important part of the plot. Toward the end, Chen Jiahu succeeds in decoding Wang Jingwei’s escape plan, though whether he is reunited with his beloved wife remains unknown. In the television version, Chen Jiahu finally escapes to Yan’an with the help of his friends. But, in the novel, this possibility remains open. In 2011, Mai Jia published Knife’s Edge (Daojian, 刀尖; television series, 2011), which is set in Nanjing during the Sino-Japanese War. The protagonist, Jin Shenshui (金深水), is a double agent. He works for the Intelligence Service of Wang Jingwei (汪精卫) in Nanjing, but, secretly, he listens to orders from Chiang Kaishek in Chongqing. In order to obtain information from a high-ranking Japanese officer, he pretends to be interested in a Japanese woman who works in a kindergarten. As the plot develops, he finds out that, even though the Japanese woman is innocent, she is working for a dark scheme without knowing it. The hospital adjacent to the kindergarten is actually a site where the Japanese use kindergarten orphans for experiments to produce a certain food that will reduce one’s intelligence. Mai Jia also creates a female agent, Lin Yingying (林婴婴), who on the surface works with Jin Shenshui, but is, in fact, an underground communist. With her appearance, the direction of the plot moves toward winning Jin Shenhui over to the communist side. This stance makes Mai Jia a writer of the dominant discourse. Mai Jia has single-handedly made a great contribution to Chinese literature with his spy fiction, a genre underdeveloped in both the Republican era and the People’s Republic. His novels successfully combine the basic elements of a thriller—heroes with extraordinary talents (code breakers), secret (double) agents, cruel and cunning enemies, suspense, and surprises—with fine language, an enticing structure, and skepticism about history. What gives Mai Jia’s spy fiction a thoughtful dimension is that most of his talented heroes do not have a happy life. Some die, some go insane. Those who are lucky to be alive continue to live under the shadow of 701. Mai Jia brings in a philosophical dimension through the process of decoding. Life is like breaking codes; the answer may be beyond anyone’s imagination. Mai Jia will continue to attract attention with his spy fiction and the film and television adaptations.


The question remains how long he can focus on his favorable subject matter and maintain his literary standard, or if he can expand his subject matter.

did not seem to be entirely drawn by the trend. Instead, from the 1980s onward, Mo Yan has confidently drawn inspiration from both his native culture and foreign culture to construct his fictional world.

Notes 1. Mai Jia, “Borges and I,” in his Rensheng zhongtu (人生中途, In the Middle of My Life). Hangzhou: Zhejiang wenyi chubanshe, 2009, pp. 3–9. 2. Mai Jia, “Yu Ji Yaya duihua” (与 季 亚 娅 对 话 , A Dialogue with Ji Yaya), ibid., pp. 248–282.

Translation into English Decoded: A Novel (trans. Olivia Milburn and Christopher Payne). New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2014.

MO YAN (B. 1956) Nobel Prize Winner from the Land of Red Sorghum Ever since his emergence on the Chinese literary scene in 1985 with the novella “The Transparent Red Carrot” (Touming de hong luobo, 透明的红 萝卜), Mo Yan has mesmerized his readers at home and abroad with his tales. In China, he is recognized as a “strange talent” (guaicai, 怪才). He became known in the West thanks to Zhang Yimou (张艺谋 ), who won the 1988 Golden Bear Award at the Berlin Film Festival with Red Sorghum (Hong gaoliang, 红高粱), which was based on Mo Yan’s novel of the same title, and thanks to the eminent translator Howard Goldblatt, who has translated almost all his important novels into English. His novel Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out (Shengsi pilao, 生死 疲劳, 2006) was short-listed for the Man Asian Literary Prize in 2007 and won the Song Fugang Asian Cultural Award (Song Fugang Yazhou wenhua dajiang, 颂福冈亚洲文化大奖) in 2012. His novel Frog (Wa, 蛙, 2008) won the prestigious Mao Dun Literary Prize. In October 2008, he was awarded the Newman Prize for Chinese Literature by Okalahoma University. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2012. Mo Yan was never a one-sided follower of the avant-garde movement that captured the attention of some Chinese young writers in the mid-1980s. Even though he was keen on learning techniques from foreign literature through translation, he

From the Village to the Army: A change of fate Mo Yan’s real name is Guan Moye (管謨業). The pen name Mo Yan (莫言), literally and ironically meaning “don’t speak,” is taken from splitting the middle character, (謨), of his name. He was born in 1956 in Gaomi (高密), Shandong Province, into a “bad” class background: upper-middle peasant. Mo Yan grew up hungry and lonely. During the years of the Great Famine (1959–1961), he was so hungry and his belly became so swollen and transparent that he said he could see the vegetable color in it.1 Because of his “bad” class background, he was not allowed to attend junior middle school, despite good grades. All this suffering left deep scars on him. He said more than once how painful, frustrating, and humiliating it was for him to be leading cattle past the school and hearing his former classmates reciting the lessons. Eager to learn, he read all the books he could borrow from nearby villages, among them classical Chinese novels such as Romance of the Three Kingdoms (Sanguo yanyi, 三国演义), and Journey to the West (Xiyouji, 西游记), as well as some communist classics from the Civil War period. He recalled sarcastically how he ground flour for a whole morning in exchange for being allowed to borrow, for two hours, The Romance of Demons and Gods (Fengshen yanyi, 封神演义). He did various laboring jobs, such as bricklayer, furnace worker, and farmer. At 16, he obtained the position of a temporary contract worker through the influence of his paternal uncle. Though Mo Yan was not able to obtain a regular education, with his attentiveness to learning, the many folk tales, anecdotes, and ghost stories he heard from the village people and his experience of village life became rich sources for his writing. In 1976, Mo Yan’s life course changed when he managed to be accepted into the PLA. In China, where there was, and still is to a certain degree, a strict division between rural and urban, joining the army was the only route for peasant youths to escape the impoverished life of a peasant. Mo Yan’s talent with language quickly made him stand out in the army. He was assigned


cultural duties such as reading newspapers to his fellow soldiers. In 1981, his first story, “Rainy Spring Night” (Chunye yu feifei, 春夜雨菲菲 , Lianchi, 5, 1981), was published. The story expresses a young village woman’s longing for her husband who is away in the army, revealing Mo Yan’s concern about sexual repression, a bold topic for army fiction. In winter 1984, after publishing more than ten short stories, he was spotted by the army writers Xu Huaizhong (徐怀 中, b. 1929) and Liu Yiran (刘毅然, b. 1955), who got him accepted into the PLA Arts Institute.2 After Mo Yan graduated in 1986, he became an instructor of political education in the army. In 1989, fulfilling his dream of higher education, he enrolled in the Master’s program jointly offered by the Lu Xun Literary Institute and Beijing Normal University, obtaining his degree in 1991. The idea of applying foreign techniques to his own stories came in the early stages of Mo Yan’s creation. In 1984, when reading the Chinese translation of The Sound and the Fury (1929), he was struck by William Faulkner’s (1897–1962) use of Yoknapatawpha County as a fictional setting. This discovery inspired him to use his own hometown as a setting for his writing. Beginning with the short story “White Dog and a Swing” (Baigou qianqiu jia, 白狗千秋架 , Zhongguo zuojia, 4, 1985), Mo Yan used Northeast Gaomi County ( 高密东北乡), his hometown, for the setting of his fiction. Another foreign writer with a big impact on Mo Yan was Gabriel García Márquez, specifically his use of Macondo as a fictional setting and the technique of magic realism in the novel One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967), which appeared in Chinese translation in the spring of 1985. In response to the many critics who make the assumption that Mo Yan’s novel Red Sorghum had been influenced by Gabriel García Márquez’s magical realism, Mo Yan pointed out in an interview that, by winter 1984, he had already completed the novella “Dog’s Way” (Gou dao, 狗 道), Chapter 3 of the novel Red Sorghum.3 Thus, he said, “I felt that I already possessed what Márquez had.” Mo Yan’s fiction, imbued with rural flavor, is characterized by an energetic rhythm that sustains the tension of the narrative and the interest of the reader. His flexible rhetoric transcends Maoist clichés. He is highly imaginative, often surprising readers with striking and colorful imagery effortlessly drawn from animate and inanimate objects,

no matter how incongruous they appear to be. The thematic issues Mo Yan deals with are diverse, including critiques of colonial rule, of Maoist misrule, and of the reform era’s vulgar commercialization and moral decadence. He also explores such themes as unhappy childhood, generation decline, the inability to face adulthood, sexual deprivation/debauchery, and the unpredictability of fate. Mo Yan creates a host of characters whose stories, mostly taking place in Northeast Gaomi County, cover actual historical events, from the late Qing period to the early years of the 21st century. Mo Yan tends to write from the perspectives of the characters, who may be an innocent child, a wrongly executed landlord, a violent bandit, a prostitute, or an executioner. Mo Yan writes compassionately about victims of the political system or fate. The world he portrays is one full of cruelty, violence, and tragedy.

A Child’s Narrative Angle: Mo Yan’s dark memories Mo Yan’s childhood memories of growing up Northeast Gaomi County are an important source for his fiction. He often makes use of an innocent child’s narrative angle to create tension between the child’s vision and the complex adult world. His child narrator is usually melancholic and powerless. This is exemplified in Mo Yan’s debut novella, “The Transparent Red Carrot” (Touming de hongluobo, 透明的红萝卜, Zhongguo zuojia, 2, 1985), in which the motherless ten-year-old, Darky (Heihai, 黑孩), is abused by his stepmother, neglected by his father, and used as child labor by the People’s Commune. The story, which is lyrically told, is set in a village during the Cultural Revolution. Darky is ordered by the unsympathetic brigade leader to work at a bridge construction site. Throughout the narrative, Darky’s lonesome image is accentuated by his weak physique, poor clothing, and frequent abuse. What touches the reader even more is that Darky seems oblivious to his sorry situation. By portraying Darky as never speaking, the reader sees his surroundings through the senses of touch, hearing, and feeling. In his mind, the “transparent red carrot” appears to be real. A co-worker, Chrysanthemum, is the only person who treats him with any warmth. However, as Darky’s desire for attention is built up gradually, it is quickly shattered. During a fight between Blacksmith and


Stone Mason (Chrysanthemum’s boyfriend), the gravel Blacksmith throws accidentally destroys Chrysanthemum’s right eye. Chrysanthemum and Stone Mason disappear from the bridge work site, and Darky is left alone again. The cruelty of fate in the form of an accident remains strong in Mo Yan’s childhood memory. In his short story “Dry River” (Ku he, 枯河, Beijing wenxue, 8, 1985,), the child Little Tiger (Xiaohu, 小虎) slips while climbing a tree, falls onto his playmate (daughter of the village cadre), and kills her. He is severely beaten by his father and brother. What lies beneath the punishment of the naughty child is the oppressive relationship between the ruling and the ruled. The father and the brother beat him in order to gain favor with the cadre. Little Tiger’s suicide in the river is the result of both family and official oppression. In “White Dog and a Swing” (Baigou qianqiujia, 白狗千秋架, Zhongguozuojia, 4, 1985), Mo Yan deals with the question of love and moral responsibility, again using a childhood accident as a key episode. While on a swing with the firstperson narrator, Nuan (暖) is accidentally blinded. This accident destroys her hopes of joining the performing troupe in the city and of a possible marriage to the young artist who had expressed affection for her. In the end, she marries a mute and gives birth to three mute children. The firstperson narrator had left the village after the accident, finding out about Nuan’s misery only ten years later. On his way home after visiting Nuan, he is led by the white dog, the witness of her fate and their youthful love, through the thick red sorghum to a space prepared by Nuan. Her request is direct, simple, and justifiable: “You have a thousand reasons to say no, but don’t tell me. All I want is a child who can speak.” Thus, the firstperson narrator is suddenly placed in a moral dilemma. The narrative ends here, abruptly but powerfully. The story was made into a film entitled Nuan. Mo Yan uses an innocent child to critique traditional superstition and the Cultural Revolution. In the short story “The Cure” (Lingyao, 灵药), an eight-year-old child is awakened before dawn by his father to go out on a mission. Suspense builds as the child is in the dark, both physically and mentally. He is instructed to hide beneath a bridge, keep silent, and wait. As the sky gets brighter, it gradually becomes clear that a landlord, though not deserving to die, is going to be executed on the bridge by his fellow villagers. The sound of the

gunshot is followed by the sound of people leaving. The mission is then revealed to the child. The father cuts the bladder of the dead landlord, which will be used as medicine for the child’s grandmother. This powerful story echoes Lu Xun’s classic, “Medicine” (Yao, 药, 1918), in which the medicine is a bun soaked with the blood of a beheaded revolutionary. Though separated by more than 60 years from Lu Xun’s time, superstition and cannibalism still exist in the name of the revolution. In 1987, Mo Yan challenged Chinese readers with Red Sorghum, an exuberant novel with unusual plot design and vigorous language and imagery. The novel originally consisted of five novellas that appeared in different journals in 1986. It was published as one book in 1987. Though not tightly structured, this novel is a landmark in contemporary Chinese literature. Told from the point of view of a teenager, Mo Yan’s novel breaks away from stereotypical communist historical fiction, by presenting unorthodox views of modern Chinese history through unconventional portrayals of Chinese peasants. In Red Sorghum, the resistance against the Japanese is not led by the communists, but comes from the people themselves. The Dionysian qualities displayed in Yeye (Grandpa) and Nainai (Grandma) are unusual in modern Chinese fiction: their bold attitudes toward love—making love in the red sorghum field and then living together without a formal marriage—and their drinking to drunkenness—perhaps only seen elsewhere in the Chinese classic Water Margins. The image of Yeye is complex: he is a sedan carrier, a bandit, a murderer, a romantic lover, a betrayer of love, and an escaped soldier in the wilderness. Nainai begins as a simple village woman, until her sexual desire is awakened by Yeye. Her assertive nature comes to life after the death of her first husband (killed by Yeye), when she becomes the head of her winery. Yet, she still cannot escape the role of an abandoned wife, when Yeye later turns his attention to Nainai’s maid. Her sacrifice during the battle against the invaders occurs briefly in Chapter 1. In Chapter 4, Mo Yan gives a fascinating description of the glamorous Chinese folk customs of the funeral procession to commemorate her. The images of the heroic grandfather and a brave grandmother, though exaggerated, befit the imagination of a teenage boy growing up in the war period.


Social Critique and Absurdity: From paradise to the wine republic Mo Yan is deeply concerned with the plight of the peasantry. The Garlic Ballads (Tiantang suantai zhi ge, 天堂蒜薹之歌, 1988) is based on an actual legal case brought by garlic peasants against corrupt officials in 1987. The name of the location, Paradise County, is ironical in view of the vicious events. In the tightly structured narrative of 20 chapters, Mo Yan presents a case of bureaucratic corruption at a time when China was undergoing massive economic reform. The plot progresses in a rhythmic manner, with each chapter beginning with a satirical folk song by the blind singer Zhang Kou (张扣). The main characters, Gao Yang (高羊) and Gao Ma (高羊), are peasants crushed by poverty and family violence. They are major participants in a riot against the unjust local government, and both are imprisoned. What distinguishes this novel from many other works— from the May Fourth era to the post-Mao period—dealing with the peasants’ plight is Mo Yan’s ability to represent the subjective consciousness of his peasant characters in a modernist manner, a technique usually applied to intellectual characters. In 1993, Mo Yan demonstrated his imaginative brilliance in the extravaganza The Republic of Wine (Jiuguo, 酒国), through a series of bizarre episodes effectively critiquing the extravagant practices at various levels of government. This postmodern narrative progresses along three parallel yet intersecting planes, with surprises and unexpected twists and turns. Each chapter contains four sections. The main thread follows the path of Inspector Ding Gou’er (丁钩儿), who secretly comes to Jiuguo (酒国, Wine City) to investigate the alleged eating of roasted baby boys by leading cadres in a coal mine. Contrary to one’s expectation of a traditional detective plot, the coal officials get him too drunk to function. After that, he does not get anywhere in the investigation and, on his way out, he even gets himself involved in a murder. The second thread concerns a series of letter exchanges between a doctoral candidate, Li Yidou (李一斗), and “Writer Mo Yan.” Toward the end of the narrative, at Li’s invitation, “Writer Mo Yan” actually goes to the Wine Republic City for a visit. The third thread comprises eight short stories on drinking, animal eating, and cannibalism, written by Li Yidou to “Writer Mo Yan.” He asks the latter to recommend his articles to a literary journal for publication. Postmodernist

qualities are replete in that the fictional character Golden Child created by the doctoral candidate appears in the inspector’s room. In another of the stories by Li Yidou, the dwarf, who owns a wine shop and fancy hotel, becomes the host who greets “Writer Mo Yan,” asking that he write his biography. In the Chinese context, excessive alcohol drinking and meat eating are symbolic of the relentless craving for wealth and power. Through Li Yidou’s story “Donkey Street” (Lujie, 驴街), Mo Yan presents the degeneration of social morality following economic reform (p. 129). Chinese society has fallen like the Wine City, symbolized by the death of the drunken inspector after falling into a cesspool. The interrelated plot lines reinforce, and at times subvert, one another as they progress. The truth of the baby-eating case, as the inspector experienced it, appears to be doubtful, because of the depiction of trees near the coal mine that produce fruit resembling male babies, but this doubt is undermined by the tales of the doctoral candidate. True or false is never clearly spelled out. Toward the end of the narrative, “Writer Mo Yan” comes to meet Li Yidou, repeating the inspector’s fall into the trap of wine in the Wine Republic City: the decadence is total. It is here that “Writer Mo Yan” separates from the real Mo Yan. Mo Yan’s Forty-one Explosions (Sishiyi pao, 四十一炮, 2003) can be read as a companion to The Republic of Wine in that both deal with human desires, for food (pork) and sex (the inspector and the woman driver in the former, the butcher Lao Lan (老兰) and his many mistresses in the latter). Forty-one Explosions is told by a childlike Luo Xiaotong (罗小通). It is a long monologue of 41 chapters. The narrator talks to a monk, who does not speak, but just listens. The narrator is deeply wrapped up in his unhappy childhood and coming of age in conditions deprived of both meat and fatherly love. Mo Yan mocks how extreme deprivation of food can turn people into meat-craving animals, which in turn provides opportunities for people such as the butcher Lao Lan, who makes a profit by injecting water into the pig meat.

An Allegory of a Nation Body: Desire and history In 1995, Mo Yan struck readers and critics with the publication of his long novel, Big Breasts and Wide Hips (Fengru feitun, 丰乳肥臀). The title itself attracted much criticism, particularly from


the army sector. Mo Yan explained that the title was inspired by a slide show given by an anthropologist at the PLA Literature and Art Institute. One image, featuring a motherly figure of big breasts and wide hips, struck him deeply. Another source of inspiration for this novel was Mo Yan’s own mother, who died in 1994. Mo Yan wrote this long novel to commemorate his mother, and he did it in only three months, while visiting his hometown Northeast Gaomi County. Based on the prototype of his mother, Mo Yan created the image of Mrs Shangguan (上官夫人), who epitomizes China’s suffering. Mrs Shangguan has been brought up by her aunt—she was orphaned at the age of three, has her feet bound at the age of four, and is married at the age of 16. Mrs Shangguan has given birth to eight daughters and one son by five different men. She was allowed (or required) to have children in this way because her husband and her in-laws wanted a male heir, and her husband was impotent. The traditional preference for males and slight against females are indicated by the names of the eight daughters, all of whom have names suggesting the desire for a brother: Pandi (盼弟)—“longing for a brother,” Laidi (来弟)—“coming brother,” Daidi (带弟)— “bringing brother,” and so on. The characters live and die in the course of the Sino-Japanese war, the Civil War, the famine of the early 1960s, the AntiRightist Campaign and the Cultural Revolution, and the reform era of the 1980s. The daughters’ different fates and the diverse backgrounds of their husbands—a Nationalist officer, a PLA officer, a bandit, and a landlord—reflect China’s recent history. Mrs Shangguan’s motherly love cannot be shown more graphically than during the Great Famine in the early 1960s. In order to feed her children at home, at work in the commune, she forces the grain down her throat secretly and then makes herself vomit the grain at home—an episode drawn from the Mo Yan’s mother’s experience during the Great Famine. By the end of the narrative, all her daughters have died tragically one way or another. The only survivor is Golden Boy, Shuanguan Jintong (上官金童). The novel ends with a striking image reflecting Golden Boy’s obsession with women’s breasts. Golden Boy is a unique image in modern Chinese fiction. The fact that he is of mixed blood—he was fathered by the Swedish priest of a church in the village—may suggest an awkward combination of indigenous culture and foreign culture. He never really grows up, as shown by his

obsession with women’s breasts and his weird reliance on women’s milk for food from babyhood until he is 15. This phenomenon of clinging to the mother is insightfully explored by historian Sun Longji (孙隆基) in his A People Unable to Wean (Wei duannai de minzu, 未断奶的民族, 1995). Seen in this light, the mother image can be seen at the same time as a great figure of human compassion, and as a source that is too benevolent to withhold its supply to her descendants. Golden Boy, the descendant, is unable to take responsibility for his own life—a sign of degeneration that Mo Yan brought up earlier in Red Sorghum. After years of experimenting with techniques from Western writers, Mo Yan returned emphatically to the heritage of Chinese folk literature. The result is the novel Sandalwood Punishment (Tanxiang xing, 檀香刑, 2001), drawn from tales of local people resisting the colonial rule of the Germans in Shandong in the late Qing period. Mo Yan has remarked that, in the course of his writing, “this work represents a conscious one big step backward” (p. 518), meaning that he returned to his native soil and indigenous cultural tradition for inspiration. Mo Yan blends in the local language and opera singing, creating an effect of half-singing, half-narration in some passages in the narrative. The plot revolves around the execution of an opera singer, Sun Bing (孙丙) for two reasons: he had led the Boxers at the turn of the 20th century, destroying railway tracks built by forced labor under the Germans, and he had killed a German technician who harassed his wife. The theme of resisting colonial rule parallels the social critique of official incompetence and the long tradition of violent torture of criminals. Sun Bing will be put to death by a newly invented “sandalwood torture”—sandalwood sticks will pierce the body from the criminal’s anus to the spine behind the head, until he dies. His daughter, Meiniang (眉娘), also an opera singer, is the pivotal character in this intense drama. The person called upon to execute Sun Bing is none other than her father-inlaw, Zhao Jia (赵甲), a prime executioner who used to work for Empress Dowager and the inventor of the “sandalwood torture.” The person who arrests her father is none other than the magistrate Qian Ding (钱丁), with whom she has had an affair. Following the tradition of the local opera, the actors put on colorful masks and costumes to sing and act for the dying person to accompany his soul to heaven. But their performance abruptly ends in bloodshed: they are shot by the German soldiers,


thus exposing the destruction of local culture and human life by colonial forces.

Political Critique: The land and the people In 2006, Mo Yan published his long novel Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out, which shows conspicuous use of Chinese cultural elements. Each chapter is titled with a couplet in the format of classical Chinese vernacular fiction (zhanghui xiaoshuo, 章回小说). In five parts and 53 chapters, Mo Yan turns to the central focus of the Chinese peasantry throughout history: the land. He makes use of the Buddhist belief in Chinese society—reincarnation—to present his view on post-1949 Chinese history through the life and death of the landlord, Ximen Nao (西门闹), and his family members in Northeast Gaomi County. The narrative begins strikingly with Ximen Nao in hell, arguing strongly and defensively with the Lord of Hades that he was a kind landlord when he was alive, but he was wrongly executed, and now he wants to go back to the human world: a strong questioning of the CCP’s land reform policies. His request is granted, suggesting that even the Lord of Hades sympathizes with the landlord. He does not return to the world as a human being, initially, but as a donkey, whose owner is none other than his former worker Lan Lian (蓝脸, Blue Face). As the narrative develops, Ximen Nao will experience the absurdities of life and the irony of revolution from the points of view of his six successive reincarnated bodies—donkey, ox, pig, dog, monkey, and human—following Chinese history from the early 1950s to the 1980s. Mo Yan provides a detailed depiction of rural life with seasonal variations. He blends the consciousness of Ximen Nao with his incarnated animal bodies. For instance, when Ximen Nao is a donkey, he displays his donkey desire for a female companion, but, at the same time, he is hearing and reacting to his surroundings as Ximen Nao. By giving voice to the landlord, Mo Yan subverts the orthodox CCP history. As is rightly observed by historian Jonathan Spence, the novel “remains a wildly visionary and creative novel constantly mocking and rearranging itself and jolting the reader with its own internal commentary. This is a politics as pathology.”4 Each of Ximen Nao’s reincarnations unfolds in a different stage in history. What remains unchanged is the land itself. Blue Face, a worker

supposedly exploited by Ximen Nao according to the class-struggle dictum, ironically remains loyal to his master. Blue Face is Ximen Nao’s double. What Ximen Nao could not do (because he has been executed) under the CCP rule is achieved by Blue Face. Blue Face marries Ximen Nao’s concubine, becoming Ximen Nao’s surrogate husband. His courage to stand alone against the ruling apparatus in keeping his private plot, despite persecution and family disintegration, makes him a unique character in contemporary Chinese fiction. When urged by his children to join the people’s commune, Blue Face replies: No, I want to work totally alone, alone, I need no one. I don’t object to the Chinese Communist Party, I don’t oppose Chairman Mao, or the People’s Commune, or the collective. I just want to work alone. All crows are black. Why can’t there be a few white crows? I am that white crow. (p. 287) A new stage has arrived: land is again redistributed according to the Agricultural Responsibility System. Blue Face’s son turns to raising pigs to get rich and subsequently develops the land into a tourist district. The party secretary, originally a fervent supporter of the people’s communes, has become disillusioned and somewhat hysterical. There is a character and writer named Mo Yan, who is Ximen Nao’s fellow villager. This selfmocking “character/writer Mo Yan” has a postmodernist narrative function: in Part 5, he explains what happens to the other Ximen family members. In the end, when Ximen Nao’s five-year-old grandson tells his friend, “My story begins with January 1, 1950”—the same line that begins the novel—Ximen Nao has finally returned in a human form, completing the cyclical structure of the narrative. The Buddhist concept of reincarnation is illustrated, and the cyclical nature of Chinese history is implied. Mo Yan’s novel Frog (Wa, 蛙, 2008), winner of the prestigious Mao Dun literary prize, consists of a series of eloquently written letters about the life of a midwife by a low-level cadre, Tadpole, to a Japanese scholar. The first-person narrator is the nephew of the midwife, who blindly and loyally follows the orders from the party. In the 1950s, when the state urged people to have more babies, she was honored as a model midwife; after the 1980s, when the state implemented the one-child


policy, she was also a model midwife. But, the latter honor turns into such a deep sense of guilt in her that she desperately looks for redemption. To redeem her sin, the midwife marries a clay artist who is skilled at creating images of babies, resonating with the idea of reincarnation. Mo Yan has immortalized his hometown in Northeast Gaomi County. The fictional characters he creates are ordinary people and are depicted as such. In his 2001 lecture in Suzhou University, he clearly spelled out his idea of literary creation: “zuowei laobaixing xiezuo” (作为老百姓写作 , writing as one of the ordinary people). This is in contrast to the long-held notion that writers are “engineers of the human soul,” and that they are writing for the people (“wei renmin xiezuo,” 为人 民写作). He explained that this notion of writing as one of the ordinary people demands that a writer “get rid of the intellectual stance,” and “use the thinking logic of the ordinary people to think. Otherwise, the ordinary life depicted is romanticized, and fake” (pp. 66–67).5 Mo Yan has written according to this conviction. Mo Yan is no doubt one of the finest Chinese writers who emerged in the 1980s. He is also among the most successful in the literature market. He has skillfully synthesized foreign influences with his native culture/history (funeral practices, war tales, ghost stories) and personal experience (farming, factory work, hunger, loneliness, violence) to produce his often avalanche-style of depicting and interpreting Chinese history and current reality. He has rejuvenated the conventional way of writing with a flexible style, rich and colorful imagery, and unbridled imagination. He has challenged and changed the reading habits of Chinese readers. Many readers will probably continue to be captivated by Mo Yan’s exceptional energy and exuberance. Others may be repelled by his remorseless attention to violence and (at times) truly sadistic cruelty. The long span of Chinese historical and literary culture allows room for many extremes, not least for their intermingling in a writer of such formidable talents as Mo Yan.

Notes 1. Laifong Leung, Morning Sun: Interviews with Chinese Writers of the Lost Generation. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1994, p. 146. 2. Liu Yiran (刘毅然), “The Writer Mo Yan as I know,” Chinese Literature, Winter 1990: 34. 3. “Wo weishenme yao xie ‘Hong Gaoliang jiazu’ ” (我 为 什 么 要 写 “红 高 粱 家 族 ”, Why I Wrote Red

Sorghum Saga), in Yang Yang (杨扬, ed.), Mo Yan yanjiu ziliao (莫言研究资料, Research Material on Mo Yan). Tianjin: Tianjin wenyi chubanshe, 2005, pp. 45–46. 4. New York Times Book Review, May 4, 2008. 5. “Zuowei laobaixing xiezuo” (作 为 老 百 姓 写 作 , Writing as One of the People), in Yang Yang (ed.), Mo Yan Yanjiu Ziliao (Research Material on Mo Yan), pp. 61–69.

Translations into English “Folk Music” (trans. Fanqin Yu). Chinese Literature, Spring (1988): 41–56. “White Dog Swing” (trans. Christopher Smith). Chinese Literature, Winter (1989): 3–23; also “White Dog and the Swing” (trans. Michael Duke), in Michael Duke (ed.), Worlds of Modern Chinese Fiction: Short Stories & Novellas from the People’s Republic, Taiwan and Hong Kong. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1991, pp. 45–62. “Strong Wind” (trans. Mei Zhong). Chinese Literature, Winter (1989): 24–31. “Dry River” (Ku he), in Jeanne Tai (trans. and ed.), Spring Bamboo: A Collection of Contemporary Chinese Short Stories. New York: Random House, 1989, pp. 207–227. Explosion and Other Stories (trans. Janice Wickeri and Duncan Hewitt, Janice Wickeri, ed.), Hong Kong: Chinese University Press, Renditions Paperbacks, 1991. Red Sorghum (trans. Howard Goldblatt). New York: Viking, 1993. Garlic Ballads (trans. Howard Goldblatt). New York: Viking, 1995. Republic of Wine (trans. Howard Goldblatt). New York: Arcade Publishing, 2000. Big Breasts and Wide Hips (trans. Howard Goldblatt). New York: Arcade Publishing, 2004. Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out (trans. Howard Goldblatt). New York: Arcade Publishing, 2008. Change (trans. Howard Goldblatt). London: Seagull, 2010. “My American Books” (trans. Sylvia Li-Chun Lin), in Arthur Sze (ed.), Chinese Writers on Writing. San Antonio, TX: Trinity University Press, 2010, pp. 223–228; also “Six Lives in Search of a Character: The 2009 Newman Prize Lecture”, pp. 228–30. Pow (trans. Howard Goldblatt). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2012. Sandalwood Death (trans. Howard Goldblatt). Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2013.

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Q QIU HUADONG (邱华栋, B. 1969) A City “Intruder” Qiu Huadong emerged in the mid-1990s and has since been recognized as a representative writer of urban literature (chengshi wenxue, 城市文学). As a modern literary genre, urban literature did not flourish in the coastal cities until the 1930s. In Shanghai, while modernist writers such as Mu Shiying (穆时英, 1912–1940), Liu Naou (刘呐 鸥, 1905–1939), and Zhou Shoujuan (周瘦鹃, 1895–1968) of the “New Sensation School” (xin ganjuepai, 新感觉派) wrote romantic and decadent urban stories, revolutionary minded writers such as Mao Dun (茅盾, 1896–1981) aimed to evince China’s semi-colonial situation and social conflict. After the CCP’s ascendance to power in 1949, the former trend was condemned as “bourgeois” and “decadent,” as literature came to be dominated by portraits of workers, peasants, and soldiers in the spirit of socialist realism. The latter trend, however, did not develop as one would expect, but only appeared in isolated works such as Zhou Erfu’s (周而复, 1914–2004) Morning in Shanghai (Shanghai de zaochen, 上海的早晨, 1958). During the Cultural Revolution, urban literature per se simply evaporated from the literary scene. In the 1980s, urban literature began to revive, as seen in the works of writers such as Wang Shuo (王朔), but their main emphasis was not on the city. In the 1990s, with China’s economic reform and the subsequent massive scale of urbanization, the image of the modern city emerged, with the mushrooming of freeways, overpasses, high buildings, hotels, and shopping malls, and, along with them, the quick transformation of people’s lifestyles, as manifested in fashion, cosmetics, music, film, night clubs, cars, and, above all, their unleashed

desires. Qiu Huadong rose at this historical moment, portraying the spectacles of the city from the vantage point of an outsider. Qiu Huadong was born and grew up in a small town called Changji (昌吉, 30 km from Urumqi), in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region. His parents are Han Chinese, originally from Henan Province, but went to cultivate the borderland in the 1950s. He was a precocious child. In his early teens, he began reading Chinese classical novels and European novels (in translation), and started publishing poetry at 16. At 18, he completed a collection of short stories, Goodbye Seventeen (Bie le, shiqi sui, 别了,十七岁, 1989), which gained him special acceptance to Wuhan University, Hebei Province, as a Chinese major, without having to sit the university entrance examination. At university, he was an editor of, and active contributor to, campus literary magazines. In 1991 and 1993, he published his poetry collections From Fire to Water (Cong huo dao shui, 从 火 到 水 ) and Flowers and Stones (Huaduo yu yanshi, 花朵与岩石), respectively. After graduation in 1992, he was assigned to work as a reporter for a newspaper in Beijing. He is currently an editor of the prestigious People’s Literature (Renmin renxue, 人民文学) in the same city. Before Qiu Huadong was 20, he had written three Bildungsroman novels drawn from his own experiences: Summer Taboos (Xiatian de jinji, 夏 天的禁忌, completed in 1980), What Is Ahead (Qianmian you shenme, 前面有什么, completed in 1991), and Night Promises (Yewan de nuoyan, 夜 晚的诺言, completed in 1993), which he regarded as writing practice. Otherwise, Qiu Huadong’s writing consists of two categories: urban fiction set in Beijing and historical novels based on memoirs by foreigners in China after the Opium War. The former occupies the highest percentage of his output and the most important.


The “Intruders” in the City: Adventure, desire, and morality Qiu Huadong’s urban tales tend to be told by the first-person author–narrator. They typically concern what he calls the young “intruders” who come to Beijing to fulfill their dreams. Qiu Huadong does not deal with factory workers but turns his attention to sojourn artists, such as painters, singers, actors, and street performers. Because they are from relatively backward regions, the technique of defamiliarization is often employed to show their reactions to the sights and sounds of the city—for instance, the Bank of China, the Yansha Shopping Mall, the Kunlun Hotel, and Western-style bars, dance halls, rock and roll concerts, and night clubs. These recurrent modern spectacles are also symbols of desire. The young intruders are eager to possess what they think they deserve. When they encounter obstacles, they feel helplessly alienated and marginalized by the city. This love–hate relationship between the intruders and the city permeates Qiu Huadong’s narratives. Qiu Huadong’s intruders may be successful and yet, they inevitably end up in frustration, failure, and even death. It is the ironical change of fate presented from a detached angle that gives Qiu Huadong’s urban fiction an allegorical edge. In September 1994, the journals Shanghai Literature and Foshan Literature (Foshan wenxue, 佛山文学) simultaneously put out a special issue called “New Citizen Fiction” (Xin shimin xiaoshuo, 新市民小说). The following two novellas by Qiu Huadong, which appeared in Shanghai Literature a few months later, were regarded as early examples of urban literature. “Starlight in Hand” (Shoushang de xingguang, 手上的星光, Shanghai wenxue, 1, 1995) deals with the desires and moral degradation of young men and women who come to Beijing to make a career. The narrative progresses along two parallel, fruitless romantic relationships. Yang Ku (杨哭, whose personal name means “crying,” a negative connotation), an economics major, becomes rich, and his double, Qiao Ke (乔克, who is Qiu Huadong’s disguise in his many works), by contrast, is a struggling writer. Yang Ku is infatuated with a pretty painter, Liao Jingru (廖静茹), and he helps her succeed in selling her paintings at a high price. But she soon drops him for a rich gallery owner, then divorces the latter, marries an American artist, and leaves for the United States. Meanwhile,

Qian Ke helps Lin Wei (林薇), an on-call singer, to find business opportunities. As she gets famous singing and in film, she drops him. When her list of male customers is leaked out, she disappears from Beijing. Liao Jingru and Lin Wei also form a double that outwits their male counterpart in their schemes. Qiu Huadong does not give a moral critique but simply lays out the situation. The gripping novella “Sitcom Actors” (Huanjing xiju ren, 环境戏剧人, Shanghai wenxue, 5, 1995) deals with the tragedy of a young woman, Long Tianmi (龙天米), who comes to Beijing to pursue an acting career. It begins with her mysterious disappearance after an attempted suicide. Throughout the suspenseful narrative, Long Tianmi does not appear in person, and her image is constructed by other characters’ conflicting impressions of her. In a chain-like plot structure, the narrator (who secretly loves her) goes to look for her and, in the process, meets one person after another—a detective, a painter, a reporter, a lesbian, a lonely old man, a designer, a businessman—some of whom, to his surprise, turn out to have had sexual relations with her. He is also shocked to learn that she has been looking for the man responsible for her pregnancy. Each encounter unfolds a different urban setting, from expensive hotels and bars to luxurious mansions, and each reveals one of Long Tianmi’s secrets. The narrative ends with Long Tianmi’s eventual suicide. Without her, her fellow actors can no longer perform the play Return to Idaho, a symbol of their ideal place. Qiu Huadong expresses his love–hate feelings toward the city, through the narrator, to the dead body of Long Tianmi: “The city has completely changed and destroyed us, and turned us into mentally sick patients, card holders, prostitutes, introverts, murderers, peepers, money chasers, egoists, and wanderers. Once we enter the city, we can never return to our native home.” A similar theme is dealt with in “The Intruders” (Chuangru zhe, 闯入者),1 in which the first-person reporter helps a woman from Northeastern China and falls in love with her. He is in the dark until a murder case in the newspaper concerning a rich man exposes that she is his mistress. Her confession reveals that, because she wants both true love and a comfortable life, she has no choice but to sell her body. In the allegorical novella “The Crying Game” (Kuqi youxi, 哭泣游戏, Zhongshan, 5, 1996), a white-collar businessman playfully tests his ability to help a young nurse from Sichuan Province


succeed in Beijing. Within a few years, she becomes a tycoon. Only after she has been murdered in her luxurious mansion does he learn that she had connections with 3,000 people, including those in secret societies. The narrator does not seem to give up his game. At the end, he approaches a migrant woman coming out of a train station, which suggests an endless supply of fortune seekers drawn to the city. For Qiu Huadong, the city has many faces. It is a fortune wheel that attracts those with desires; it is also a meat grinder that destroys them; it is a dark hole that people fall into, consciously or unconsciously; it is a stage and a party where people act and disperse. However, it is against this enticing, yet dangerous, space that they strive to stand up with dignity. Most of Qiu Huadong’s urban stories and novellas are told by the author–narrator. His plots and characters are sometimes repetitive. The male protagonist typically meets a good-looking woman in a bar, takes her home when drunk, and starts a relationship with her. As the plot develops, she turns out to be an enterprising woman, achieving her goal by whatever means—one favorite trick is to use men. Hence, Qiu Huadong’s female “intruders” tend to appear in a negative light. Actually, his male protagonist has a true love, who lives somewhere else, uncontaminated by the evil of the city, or she is already dead, but has remained dear to his heart.

The Entrepreneurs, Professionals, and the Middle Class Qiu Huadong is fond of writing serial stories. From 1992 to 1998, he wrote 50 short stories about people from many walks of life in the city, dealing with such themes as alienation, absurdity, and even fantasy. For instance, “The Fashion Models” (Shizhuang ren, 时装人, Zhongshan, 6, 1994) is a fantasy. It depicts two chimpanzees escaping from their cages in the zoo to murder fashion models, as if to express their impatience with hypocrisy. “The Salesmen” (Zhixiao ren, 直 销人, Shanhua, 3, 1995) shows how advertisements erode the beauty of simple living; and “Public Relations Personnel” (Gongguan ren, 公 关人, Shanhua, 3, 1995) satirizes how job requirements erase one’s true nature. Qiu Huadong is the first writer to meticulously portray China’s rising middle class, creating

a variety of new images in Chinese fiction. From 2000 to 2010, he wrote some 60 short stories about members of this class, living in a wellguarded community on the outskirts of Beijing, all under the title of “The Community People” (Shequ ren, 社区人 ; also translated as “The Locals,” 2004). For instance, in “One Kilometer Long Restaurant” (Yi gongli chang de canting, 一公里长的 餐厅),2 the first-person writer–narrator witnesses the ups and downs of his neighbor, an entrepreneur who expands from a small shop to a 1-kmlong restaurant with all kinds of side businesses, and to the collapse of the entire enterprise. But this does not discourage the dreamy entrepreneur: he moves on to another adventure, and then another. “Defacement” (Huirong, 毁容)3 is a thoughtful story about the unpredictability of fate and the fragility of pride and ability. A common-law couple live comfortably in a luxurious house. Intelligent and proud, they often get into conflicts and finally split up. Before the male protagonist leaves for a job in Singapore, he asks her out for coffee one more time. A twist of fate changes the direction of the plot from a simple romantic tale to a quest for the meaning of life. A fire on the bus disfigures both of them, which subsequently changes their whole outlook on life and brings them together again. From 1995 to 2008, under the umbrella title “Beijing Time” (Beijing shijian, 北京时间), Qiu Huadong wrote a series of four novels: Chariots in the City (Chengshi zhanche, 城市战车, 1997), Testimonies at Noon (Zhengwu de gongci, 正午的 供词, 2001), The Professors (Jiaoshou, 教授, 2008), and Flowers, Flowers (Huaer hua, 花儿花, 2010), which, respectively, deal with urban artists, film director and actors, intellectuals, and young professionals. The novel Chariots in the City (1997) culminates the characteristics of his urban tales. It deals with the dreams, struggles, and frustrations of the bohemian avant-garde artists residing in the ruins of Yuanming Garden and in the villages beyond the then Third Ring Road. The narrative progresses with the adventure of 26-year-old painter Zhu Wen (朱文), who leaves his devoted girlfriend, an art teacher, in his home province to come to Beijing to look for artistic inspiration. His adventure is not just about art, but also an escape from social restraint and conventionality. He falls in love with a rich businessman’s lonely wife and helps her realize her dream of setting up an absurdist drama troupe. The absurdist plays are


metaphors for the urban reality, as shown in her becoming insane at the end. Testimonies at Noon (Zhengwu de gongci, 2001), which Qiu Huadong considers his representative work before he was 30, demonstrates his postmodernist techniques (p. 53).4 The narrative begins with the murder and suicide case of an internationally famous couple—the film director husband and the actress wife. The curious firstperson reporter is determined to find out the reasons behind the murder case. He makes use of many sources, from interviews, diaries, and movie scripts to dialogues between the souls of the couple, all contributing to the mixed form of the narrative. Because many details bear some similarities to the life of the internationally known film director Zhang Yimou (张艺谋) and film actor Gong Li (巩俐), the novel caused great controversy. The engaging novel The Professors (Jiaoshou, 2008) presents a panoramic view of a morally declining society through the life of two middleaged professors, Zhao Liang (赵亮) and Duan Gang (段刚). Zhao Liang epitomizes one of those so-called successful academics who, as a professor of economics, besides teaching, makes huge profits by being an adviser to local government officials and rich businessmen. But he also has his problems. Because his lawyer wife refuses to bear a child, they hire a surrogate mother from a village. But this only results in disappointment when the surrogate mother decides to keep the child and leaves without a trace. This leads to his messy divorce. The arrest of the corrupt officials forces him to go into hiding. His final redemption is to give away his savings to help poor students. Duan Gang is a professor of classical Chinese literature, who, by contrast, is dutiful and morally upright. The author uses Duan Gang as the firstperson narrator who witnesses and sometimes gets involved in Zhao Liang’s complex matters. The only noble figure is Duan Gang’s graduate student who, after exposing another student’s plagiarism, a ubiquitous practice in higher institutions, is ostracized by fellow students, and he jumps from a high building. The novel is overloaded with issues—social, ecological, and educational issues, corruption, surrogate mothers—some of which are revealed through long dialogue. Like most of Qiu Huadong’s urban fiction, the character’s past does not enter the text, and everything is about the present. His novel, Flowers, Flowers, which deals with the love and divorce among professionals, further confirms this tendency.

Historical Fiction: Viewing China from a foreigner’s perspective Qiu Huadong’s shift to writing historical novels was inspired by the antique screens of his German landlord, who is fond of collecting old Chinese furniture. Based on the memoirs by foreigners in China from the Opium War to the 20th century, he wrote in a more relaxed style compared with his urban stories. His “Screen Series” (pingfeng xilie, 屏 风 系 列 ) consists of four novels: The Telescope (Dantong wangyuanjing, 单筒望远镜, 2007), Men Who Ride the Flying Fish (Qi feiyu de ren, 骑飞鱼的人, 2007), The City of Janaidar (Jianaida zhi cheng, 贾 奈 达 之 城 , 2007), and Prisoners of Time (Shijian de qiutu, 时间的囚徒, 2013). He also published the historical novel Eternal Life (Changsheng, 长生, 2013), which deals with Taoist Qiu Chuji (丘处机, 1148–1227), who, in 1217, made a long journey from Shandong Province to Afghanistan, on Kublai Khan’s order. There they met to talk about the philosophy of life and ways to achieve longevity. The Telescope is set in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A French missionary brings to China his niece Asuer (阿苏儿) and nephew, after their father has passed away. He also adopts a Chinese orphan Lin (林). Asuer returns to France to attend school at 13. When she returns as a young woman, her missionary uncle has been killed by the Boxers, her brother has become a missionary in Shandong Province, and her playmate Lin has joined the Boxers. Through her eyes, the narrative unfolds the chaotic situation of the declining Qing dynasty: the failure of the Hundred Days Reform (1898) and the subsequent execution of the reformers, the Boxers Uprising (1900), the escape of Empress Dowager, and the conflicts between the churches and believers. The narrative also interweaves the love–hate relationship between Asuer and Lin. The City of Janaidar is based on a memoir written by the wife of a British diplomat stationed in Xinjiang in the Republican period. Her depiction of Xinjiang aroused Qiu Huadong’s interest, because Xinjiang was his birthplace. After writing about Beijing for so many years, he turned his attention to his birthplace. In this novel, Qiu Huadong contrasts two worlds: one is the inner world (memory) of the female protagonist, and the other is the present natural surroundings of Xinjiang.


Men Who Ride the Flying Fish is based on the memoir of a British navy officer who was sent to Hong Kong in 1859 (18 years after the Opium War [1841–1842]). Besides his romantic relations with a Portuguese woman, the most interesting part is his meeting with the Taiping leaders Hong Xiuquan (洪秀全, 1814–1864) and Li Xiucheng (李秀成, 1823–1864) and becoming a member of the Taiping Army. The historical details are skillfully incorporated into the fictional narrative. Prisoners of Time deals with a Rightist born of Chinese and French parents, and the 1968 Red Movement in France. Qiu Huadong has transformed himself with these historical novels. In these novels, there is no trace of the anxiety found in his earlier urban fiction. His language flows in a relaxed and confident manner. He blends historical details with imagination effortlessly. Moreover, his appropriation of foreigners as first-person narrators is rare in Chinese fiction. The adoption of the Other’s perspective to view China (the self) opens up a fresh perspective in narration. Qiu Huadong is well-read in Western literature. He has published two collections of notes on a

large number of Western writers and their works, which is rare among Chinese writers. Despite the obvious shortcomings of his urban stories—for instance, their repetitiveness in plot and characters—Qiu Huadong has secured his position as a pioneering figure in contemporary Chinese urban fiction.

Notes 1. Published in Qiu Huadong, Kuqi youxi (哭泣游戏, The Crying Game). Wuhan: Changjiang wenyi chubanshe, 1997, pp. 159–214. 2. In Qiu Huadong, Shequ ren (社区人, The Community People). Shanghai: Shanghai wenyi chubanshe, 2004, pp. 12–21. 3. Ibid., pp. 22–35. 4. Qiu Huadong (邱华栋 ) and Ma Ji (马季 ), “Qiu Huadong: chengshi ganjue zhong de lishi huiwang” (邱华栋 : 城市感觉中的历史回望 , Qiu Huadong: a Historical Review of Urban Feelings), Qingchun (青春), 3, 2007, pp. 49–55.

Translation into English “Friends of the Moon” (trans. Joel Martinsen). Pathlight: New Chinese Writing, 1 (2012).

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S SHEN RONG (谌容, B. 1936) From Propaganda to Satire Best known for her fiction on the plight of intellectuals and professionals, Shen Rong (also pronounced Chen Rong) was among the earliest to establish her fame after Mao. Like many Chinese writers who wrote during the Maoist era, Shen Rong’s early works adhered to the prevailing party line. The death of Mao and the subsequent relaxation of control provided her with an opportunity to represent reality anew. Shen Rong was one of earliest writers to popularize the novella form to depict, in a timely way, the fates of those crushed by political campaigns and the drastic changes happening in Chinese society. She was also a foremost writer in the postMao era to fuse critical realism with humor, satire and fantasy with an artistic distance. Shen Rong’s success gave her an opportunity to visit foreign countries in the early 1980s. However, since the deaths of her husband and elder son, one month apart in 2001, she has kept a low profile on the Chinese literary scene. Shen Rong was born in Hankou (汉口), Hunan Province. During the Republican period, her father was a judge in a supreme court and had worked in Beiping (called Beijing after 1949), Chongqing, and Nanjing. Her mother, a native of Baoding, Hebei Province, graduated from Hebei Women’s Normal College. During the war, both parents took her to Sichuan Province, where she was entrusted to relatives to live in the countryside. In 1949, Shen Rong was in the second year of middle school in Chongqing. Highly charged with revolutionary idealism, she left her parents to join the Literary and Artistic Troupe in the PLA. She was assigned to sell books in the newly founded

Southwest Workers’ Publishing House (Xi’nan gongren chubanshe, 西南工人出版社). She made use of the opportunity to read a large number of literary works, being drawn particularly to Russian literature. In 1952, she was assigned to work in the editorial section. In 1954, she enrolled in the Beijing Russian School (now Beijing Language University). After graduation in 1957, she was assigned to do Russian translation and editing in the Central Broadcasting Bureau. In 1962, she was transferred to teach Russian in a middle school, but, owing to poor health, she had to resign from work. Shen Rong believed that the prerequisite for becoming a writer was to know the lives of workers, peasants, and soldiers. In 1963, she sent her two sons to live with her relatives in Shanghai and she went to live among the peasants in Fenyang County (汾阳县), Shanxi Province. Shen Rong’s determination to take such extraordinary action in order to pursue her literary dream could be explained by both her strong desire to become a writer and her intention to show her loyalty to the party because of her father’s connection with the Nationalist government. In 1964, when the Four Cleanups Movement (Siqing yundong, 四清 运动) was launched in the countryside, Shen Rong returned to the city. During the Cultural Revolution, Shen Rong was not involved in any faction because she did not have a work unit. However, she was sent to Tong County (通县 ) on the outskirts of Beijing. It was there she began writing.

Rural Tales: From Maoist propaganda to sociopolitical critique Shen Rong wrote her first novel, Eternal Green (Wannian qing, 万年青, 1975), in the countryside.


Set in 1962, it deals with the struggles between two factions concerning Liu Shaoqi’s (刘少奇, 1898–1969) new agricultural policy of allowing peasants to have private plots. Shen Rong’s second novel, Light and Darkness (Guangming yu hei’an, 光明与黑暗, 1978), is set in 1975. It also revolves around the struggles between two factions. The main content focuses on the “In Agriculture, Learn from Daizhai” Campaign (Nongye xue Daizhai, 农 业 学 大 寨 ; the model of Daizhai was later revealed as a fake). In a long autobiographical essay, Shen Rong says that the above novels are drawn from real incidents (p. 19).1 In response to the criticism of these “erroneous novels,” she explains: Some comrades say that the author is detached from life and follows politics. I do not agree. Our life cannot be separated from politics; our literary works reflect politics of the time. In real life, there appeared objections against [Liu Shaoqi’s] private plot plan. Not only the central government opposed it, all ranks of officials and peasants were mobilized to oppose it. Many people even whole-heartedly believed in it. They opposed it in 1962 and they continued to oppose it after the fall of the “Gang of Four” and until the Third Plenum of the Eleventh Party Congress (December 18–22, 1978). Shen Rong also says that, in 1975, many old cadres who believed in the campaign of “Learn from Daizhai” did get into conflicts with those opposing it. She then acknowledges that: to be fair, for so many years, our lives had been thwarted by “leftist” politics, and as such, literary works that deal with life could only reflect that kind of life. One should not try to look for reasons in the writers. This is a rare phenomenon in the history of Chinese literature. (p. 30) Shen Rong’s explanation might sound justifiable. Yet, great writers are able to see beyond the surface and would rather remain silent. Whereas many writers began their careers with short fiction and then moved on to novellas and novels, Shen Rong did the opposite, because she had already written novels during the Cultural

Revolution. In the immediate aftermath of Mao’s death, in order to capture quickly the great changes in Chinese society, she adopted the novella form in a series of tales, instead of the novel form. Her first novella, “Eternal Spring” (Yongyuan shi chuntian, 永远是春天, completed in summer 1978, Shouhuo, 3, 1979), conveys her social critique. It deals with the lives of an underground-communist couple torn apart by war and politics. The firstperson reporter–narrator performs the role of listener to the confession of the second narrator, Li Mengyu (李梦雨), whose story occupies the main part of the narrative. Li Mengyu degenerates from an idealistic underground communist during the Republican period to an uncaring bureaucrat and, finally, his nightmarish imprisonment during the Cultural Revolution. In contrast to the moral degeneration of Li Mengyu, his first wife, Han Lamei (韩腊梅), remains loyal to her ideal of bringing water to the dry districts. Moreover, during the Cultural Revolution, she risks her life to speak up for him at mass meetings, resulting in her suffering severe injury. Shen Rong’s suspenseful and sarcastic novella “The Secret of Prince Village” (Taizi Cun de mimi, 太子村的秘密, Dangdai, 2, 1984) is set in 1978, on the eve of the dismantling of the People’s Commune System. The narrative revolves around three anonymous letters accusing village party branch secretary Li Wanju (李万举) of mismanaging a bumper harvest. The cynical reactions of the selfish officials to the anonymous letters lay bare the intricate bureaucratic network. The answer to the letters’ origin is given toward the end of the narrative: the letters are actually written by an old peasant who benefits from Li’s secret implementation of the responsibility scheme and who deliberately uses the letters to call the local officials’ attention to the livelihoods of the peasantry.

Urban Tales: Portraits of intellectuals and professionals in the post-Mao era Shen Rong’s most important and successful works undoubtedly are those concerned with Chinese intellectuals and professionals. She covers themes about their suffering under political campaigns and she satirizes their thwarted behavior. Shen Rong started writing with social realism, but she very quickly turned to satire and black humor. Under the influence of Mao’s Yan’an Talks (1942), intellectuals were categorized as belonging


to the petty-bourgeois class. Hence, since the 1950s, intellectuals rarely appeared as protagonists in fiction. If they appeared at all, they were portrayed as negative characters engaging in sabotage of socialist construction. Shen Rong’s “Reaching Middle Age” (Ren dao zhongnian, 人 到中年, Shouhuo, 1, 1980) marked the loud return of intellectuals/professionals to literature. After the Cultural Revolution, middle-aged Chinese professionals and intellectuals share a sense of urgency in catching up with their work. Eye doctor Lu Wenting (陆文婷) and her scientist husband form such a couple. Yet they are poorly paid, and their working and living conditions are far from ideal. Shen Rong gives the vivid detail that their living space is so small that they have to take shifts at night to use the desk. Unlike her cohort fellow Zhang Jie (张洁), who bitterly spells out gender inequality, Shen Rong portrays the patience and self-sacrifice of Lu Wenting in support of her husband’s scientific research as an expression of love and mutual understanding. Lu Wenting’s image stands out as a competent, devoted, and courageous female professional in contemporary Chinese literature. A memorable episode involves her firmly telling the violent Red Guards to get out of the operating room. Her noble character is in great contrast to the selfish Mrs Marx, wife of a high-ranking official, who is her patient. The symbolic collapse of Lu Wenting after long hours performing operations signifies the deplorable conditions that are crushing the intellectuals and professionals. If no action is taken, brain drain to other countries will be inevitable, as shown in the emigration of Lu Wenting’s best friend and colleague to Canada. Shen Rong alternates the past and the present to depict Lu Wenting’s relationships with her husband and children, her colleagues, and her patients, thereby establishing a complete image, as well as her surroundings. The tone is serious and sympathetic. An episode in which her husband recites love poems by her sickbed, though somewhat sentimental, fits the mentality of the generation of the 1950s. Shen Rong’s name will live on in contemporary Chinese literature through the portrait of Lu Wenting, just as Lu Xun’s did with that of Ah Q. In 1991, Shen Rong published the novella “Reaching Old Age” (Ren dao laonian, 人到老年, Shouhuo, 4, 1991), which, receiving much less attention, deals with the marriage and life of three good friends from the 1950s to the

1980s. The critical emphasis is on their inability to keep up with the new changes in society. In the engaging novella “True and Fake” (Zhenzhen jiajia, 真真假假, Shouhuo, 1, 1982), Shen Rong adopts satire to expose the suppression of academic freedom and the subsequent anxiety, fear, and betrayal among intellectuals. The narrative is set in a foreign literature research institute in a certain academy of social sciences. Researcher Xu’s (许) article becomes the target of an attack owing to his supposedly uncritical acceptance, if not one-sided praise, of Western modernism in literature. The narrative begins with the enthusiastic section chief Yang (杨) paying visits to the members of his unit, trying to persuade them to speak up in the forthcoming three-day meeting. Shen Rong vividly presents an absurd meeting scene of intellectuals torn by selfish motivations, anxiety, and fear. The meeting turns into a farce with the manipulation of words, confusing truth and lies, defiance, and betrayals. Even Xu, the author of the article, betrays himself. Up to this point, it seems to be a total defeat for the intellectuals. However, Shen Rong concludes with a sense of hope: researcher Wu (吴), after one night’s deep reflection, gathers his courage to speak out honestly against the criticism of Xu’s article and the party boss who has orchestrated it. By contrast, Shen Rong depicts older intellectuals with admiration and sympathy. In the novella “A Carefree Person” (Sandan de ren, 散淡的人, Shouhuo, 3, 1985), she deftly fuses the past and the present to construct the eventful life of a learned, Oxford-educated scholar, Yang Zifeng ( 杨子丰). As an idealist, he returns to China to support the revolution. Yet, he cannot stop being critical of the government and has been repeatedly persecuted. The juxtaposition of his social criticism and the verdicts against him forms a strong historical irony. Shen Rong’s black-humored “Reduced by Ten Years” ( Jianqu shisui, 减去十岁, Renmin wenxue, 2, 1986) is hailed as one of the most wittily chosen titles and subjects to express political critique. The short story is a farce. The quick-paced narrative begins with the announcement of a certain government document that everybody can reduce by ten years. The Chinese people have indeed wasted ten years of their life in the Cultural Revolution. The announcement immediately arouses a host of reactions, each person reacting from his or her perspective of self-interest. If the announcement is


true, those over 60 can now stay in their job without retiring; those who missed the chance of going to school can now attend university; women in their 30s can now reconsider their standard for choosing their mates; older researchers can take on more projects; and old people can abandon their frugal habits and purchase modern electronic appliances. The rhythm reaches its climax when they launch a parade to celebrate the announcement. The announcement, however, does not appeal to everybody. For instance, to young people, reducing ten years would mean they have to wait for a longer time to get promotion. The farce powerfully ends at a point where no one knows where the document is. Shen Rong’s satirically titled novella “Too Lazy to Get a Divorce” (Lan de lihun, 懒得离婚, Jiefangjun wenyi, 8, 1988) is characterized by a postmodernist treatment of a normally serious theme—marriage and divorce in Chinese society of the 1980s. Fang Fang (方芳), an idealistic female reporter, is shocked to find out, through a series of interviews, that the majority of marriages are maintained because the couples are “too lazy to get a divorce,” in view of the complexity of getting one. The novella is a drastic departure from the romantic relationship between Lu Wenting and her husband in “Reaching Middle Age” (1980). Shen Rong’s 1993 novel Dream River (Meng zhong de he, 梦中的 河) is among the earliest to anticipate China’s environmental problems. The narrative begins with the ecologist protagonist, Lin Yandong (林雁冬 ), visiting her rich maternal grandmother in Hong Kong, who wants to match her with Wang Yaoxian (王耀先), a wealthy, welleducated overseas Chinese. The cultural differences between people from these two places come to the fore through Lin’s activities. Lin’s dream is clean up the ironically named Clear River (Qing He, 清河) in her hometown, Clear River County. Lin’s hero is Jin Tao (金滔), a provincial official and expert in environmental protection, but he is unable to mobilize the corrupt and inefficient network of officials. The role of Hong Kong as finance and technology importer in China’s modernization is embodied through Wang Yaoxian’s investment in the ecological projects. Despite this, Wang does not get Lin’s love after all. Like Hong Kong, he has fulfilled his role. Shen Rong’s fiction has undergone great changes throughout her career. One must say that her early works, which adhere to party-directed

formulaic representation, are merely of historical value from today’s perspective. Shen Rong has made a great contribution to post-Mao Chinese literature in three aspects: first, the bringing to the fore of images of intellectuals as central characters in fiction; second, the popularization of the use of the novella form; and third, her skillful mixture of realism, satire, and absurdity in the depiction of Chinese intellectuals. Wang Shuo (王朔), who also satirizes Chinese intellectuals, has gone further than Shen Rong in his postmodernist treatment of them. One difference is that Shen Rong still retains a sense of dignity and hope for them, whereas Wang Shuo utterly discards anything positive in them.

Note 1. Shen Rong, “Bingfei youqu de zishu” (并 非 有 趣 的 自 述 , Not an Interesting Self-narration), in Shen Rong Suibi (谌 容 随 笔 , Random Notes by Shen Rong). Shanghai: Zhishi chubanshe, 1994, pp. 7–31.

Translations into English “A Faded Letter,” in Eastern Horizon, 20, 8, August (1981): 37–50. “Ten Years Deducted” (trans. Gladys Yang), Chinese Literature, Spring (1982); also in Bian Ying (ed.), The Time Is Not Yet Ripe: Contemporary China’s Best Writers and Their Stories. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1991, pp. 193–216. “To Save Them Trouble” (trans. Howard Goldblatt), Chinese Literature, Spring (1982): 20–32. “At Middle Age” (trans. Margaret Decker), in Perry Link (ed.), Roses and Thorns: The Second Blooming of the Hundred Flowers in Chinese Fiction, 1979–80. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1984, pp. 261–338. “The Rose Colored Dinner” (trans. Ruth Yu Hsiao), in Liu Nienling (ed.), The Rose Colored Dinner: New Works by Contemporary Chinese Women Writers. Hong Kong: Joint Publishing, 1988, pp. 19–37. “Regarding the Problem of Newborn Piglets in Winter” (trans. Chun-Ye Shih), in Liu Nienling (ed.), ibid., pp. 80–94. “Novels Strangled in the Cradle: My Senseless Literary Battles” (trans. W.J.F. Jenner), in Helmut Martin and Jeffrey Kinkley (eds.), Modern Chinese Writers: Self-Portrayals. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1992, pp. 61–72.


SHI TIESHENG (史铁生, 1953–2010) Not Confined to a Wheelchair Humane, compassionate, and contemplative, Shi Tiesheng was and will remain one of the most unique and highly respected Chinese writers to emerge after Mao. He was paralyzed from the waist down, requiring a wheelchair from the age of 21. During the Cultural Revolution, he was sent to Yanchuan County (延川县) in northern Shaanxi Province as a Zhiqing. Physical labor was, without a doubt, a contributing factor to his misfortune. He attempted suicide several times, but eventually developed confidence in himself and in life. In many places in his writing, he poses the question, “Why do people write?”, and he gives the answer, “so as not to commit suicide.”1 Instead of living in self-pity and frustration, he transformed his misery into a source of literary creation. Since his emergence onto the literary scene in 1979, Shi Tiesheng has captured the attention of readers with his natural, unadorned, personal style, intermingled with an introspe