GAO XINGJIAN, SU TONG AND OTHER ACCLAIMED MODERN CHINESE WRITERS

SERIOUS MODERN CHINESE WRITERS

20080302-Red Soprghm, Gong Li zhangyimou_jd02.jpg
Film of Red Sorghum, based on
book by Mo Yan
Mo Yan wrote Red Sorghum, which was made into a famous movie (See Film), and Big Breasts & Wide Hips, both of which have been translated into English by Howard Goldplatt. Mo Yan was born in 1955 in a peasant family in northern China and is known for his colorful imagery, magical realism style and historical references.

Gui Lusheng, one of China's most famous underground poets, suffered a nervous breakdown in the 1970s and was diagnosed with schizophrenia. He has spent the last 20 years living in a sanitarium outside of Beijing.

Noteworthy modern activist writers include Ma Jian, known for speaking up and offering an independent, critical voice; Liu Xiaobo, jailed for many years for his Tiananmen Square activism; and the Tibetan writer Woeser and her Chinese husband Wang Lixiong. The Last Communist Virgin by Wang Ping is a fine collection of stories that offer insight into Chinese culture and are well written and intriguing as stories. Wang grew up in China and has been based in New York and Minnesota.

Yan Lianke is one of China’s most popular novelists and a former propaganda writer for the PLA. Among his books are Enjoyment, about Chinese officials who buy Lenin’s copse from Russia and bring it to their hometown as a tourist attraction and Save the People, about a woman who gets off sexually when her lover rips of passage of The Little Red Book and breaks her husbands Mao icons.

Of writers active today, the biggest names, such as Yu Hua and Su Tong, are “60-hou”, or “post-60ers---who were born in the 1960s but “mostly achieved fame while in their 30s.” Another batch of writers favored by the mainstream media are the “80-hou”, especially Han Han and Guo Jingming. [Source: Raymond Zhou, China Daily, February 21, 2008]

20111122-amazon mo Yan.jpg
The writer Yu Hua told the New York Times, younger writers don’t like to see books that reveal the dark side of China; they live very comfortable lives; they don’t believe in the dark side of China; they are not even aware of the hundreds of millions of people still living in extreme poverty.

Among the many literary awards are the Lu Xun Award for short stories and novellas, the Mao Dun Award for novels and Man Asian Literary Prize.

Bi Feiyu won this year's Man Asian Literary Prize for his masterful novel Three Sisters . The author was due to visit the UK last year to promote his book--an epic portrayal of contemporary Chinese culture--but was caught in visa bureaucracy.

Modern Chinese Writers and Literature: MCLC Resource Center mclc.osu.edu ; Yellow Bridge yellowbridge.com ; Mao slogans sacu.org ; Mao Sayings art-bin.com; Pearl Buck University of Pennsylvania english.upenn.edu ; Gao Xingjian Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Nobel Prize site nobelprize.org ; BBC Report bbc.co.uk ; Wang Shou Wikipedia article on Wang Shou Wikipedia : Shanghai Baby Google Books books.google.com ; Book Reporter Review bookreporter.com ; Free Williamsburg Review freewilliamsburg.com : Ha Jin Random House randomhouse.com ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Interview powells.com ; Book Browse bookbrowse.com ; Book Reporter bookreporter.com ; Amy Tan Amy Tam.net amytan.net ; Academy of Achievement biography achievement.org ; Anniina’s Amy Tam Page luminarium.org Links in this Website: CHINESE CULTURE Factsanddetails.com/China ;CLASSIC CHINESE LITERATURE Factsanddetails.com/China ; LEADERSHIP AND PROPAGANDA UNDER MAO Factsanddetails.com/China ; CULTURAL REVOLUTION --ENEMIES AND HORRORS Factsanddetails.com/China

2011 Mao Dun Prize Winners

20111122-amazon Mo Yan 2.jpg
Mo Yan, Zhang Wei, Liu Xinglong, Bi Feiyu and Liu Zhenyun, won the 2011 Mao Dun Literature Prize. The five award-winning novels deal with different themes. You Are on the Highland by Zhang Wei recounts the vicissitudes experienced by four generations of a family over 100 years of the nation's political and social transformation. Sky Walker by Liu Xinglong narrates the struggles and hopes of "citizen-managed" teachers - teachers in rural schools who are not paid by the government and have to survive on what the village heads give them - in a mountain village. [Source: Yang Guang, China Daily, August 21, September 21, 2011]

Frog by Mo Yan examines the country's family-planning policy through the life of a rural gynecologist, who is based on his own aunt. Massage by Bi Feiyu centers on the lives of a group of blind masseurs. A Sentence is Worth Thousands by Liu Zhenyun explores the theme of loneliness in a society sans religion, where man is in constant search of someone to talk to.

You Are on the Highland by Zhang Wei topped the five winners. Spanning 100 years, the 10-volume river novel You Are on the Highland recounts the vicissitudes experienced by four generations of a family in the country's political and social transformation. It took Zhang 22 years to finally finish the magnum opus of 4.5 million words.

The five novels sold out both in bookstores and online bookshops, soon after the results were announced on August 20. Publishers of the five novels have confirmed that tens of thousands of copies have been printed to meet demand. According to Zhao Ping, director of Contemporary Literature Editing Room, People's Literature Publishing House, Sky Walker and Massage were bestsellers even before the awards were announced. She says 50,000 additional copies printed for each sold out within a month of the announcement. Total sales for each book are put at more than 100,000.

Jury member and literary critic Chen Xiaoming commented in a phone interview with China Daily that all five winners are great works by great writers in great times. "The result shows respect for literature, and for writers for their devotion and perseverance,"he said. Writer Mo Yan said at the awards ceremony of the Eighth Mao Dun Literature Prize, held at the National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing, "The great novel that matches the great times has yet to be written," w. It is out here, beckoning us, but the path to it remains unclear, he added

Nobel-Prize-Winner Gao Xingjian

leftThe Paris-based playwright and novelist Gao Xingjian won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2000. It was the first Nobel literature prize for a someone born in China. Only a few intellectuals knew who he was before he won the prize. Only after he won were his works translated into English. In China he is mostly ignored. The government regards him as French. Even after he won the prize he remained unknown to most ordinary Chinese.

The New York Times described Gao as "a small, tidy figure with crinkly smiling eyes." Gao said the Nobel prize was "something that falls on you from the sky like a miracle. It's a total surprise...While this prize guarantees my independence. I don’t think it will make my work better-known in China."

Gao was born in eastern Jiangxi Province in 1940, while bombs were exploding during the Japanese occupation of China. At the age of 15 he had a dream that dramatically changed him. He told the Observer, "I was sleeping with a marble woman. She was beautiful and cold---a statue that had fallen into the grass, and I was lost in an exuberant freedom. It was that freedom, which we call decadent, that brought me to France.”

During the Great Leap Forward in the 1960s his mother drowned after being sent to the countryside to do forced labor. Gao began writing seriously around that time. His works angered the Communist. During the Cultural Revolution his wife denounced him and he was forced to burn "kilos and kilos" of his works out of worry about being imprisoned. He did hard labor in the fields for six years.

Gao was allowed to write again in 1979 but not for long. In 1983 his play Bus Stop was condemned, and after that he was continuously hounded and harassed. After the publication of Fugitives, a play set against the backdrop of Tiananmen Square, he was declared a persona nongrata and his work was banned.

20080302-gao-award Nobel prize.jpg
Gao receives Nobel prize

Gao Xingjian, France and China

In 1987, Gao left China for Paris and has lived in exile in France ever since. "I love Paris," he said. "It's the best city in the world for artists." After the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989, his apartment was seized by authorities. He became a French citizen in 1998. He never returned to mainland China.

At the time he won the Nobel prize, Gao lived in a two-room apartment on the 19th floor of an apartment block in Bagnoley, a tough suburb east of Paris. He said he spends 16 hours a day writing and painting. He enjoys listening to Mozart and Messiaen. He doesn't associate much with the Chinese community in France On his profession, he said, "Writing eases my suffering...Writing is my way of reaffirming my own existence."

Beijing criticized Gao’s Nobel Prize, saying it was given for "ulterior political motives." It said Gao’s writing is “very, very average.” After winning the Nobel Prize, Gao made visits to Taiwan and Hong Kong,.

Gao avoids talking about politics and has never been very political anyway. The Chinese government reportedly doesn't like him because of his lack patriotism and his focus on ordinary people. He does occasionally offer his opinion on Chinese society. He told an Australian newspaper, “Chinese people are too confined by their own culture. As far as I’m concerned, Chinese culture in general is meaningless...Too much emphasis on identity can become talk without real meaning and it can easily lead to nationalism. There is only identity that is beyond doubt and that is that you are an individual.”

On his relationship with the Beijing government Gao told the New York Times in 2012: “I have no interest in that. I’ve been away from mainland China for 24 years. China is far away from my real life. My contribution to Chinese literature is finished. Now I live in the West and my concern is Europe, which is undergoing a crisis.” He also dismissed his usual tag of writer-in-exile. “I’m lucky to have had three lives: The first was in China; the second in exile; and the third in France,” he said. “I am a French writer with a French passport. I am a citizen of the world. For me, national borders are meaningless.” [Source: Joyce Hor-chung Lau, New York Times, March 1, 2012]

Gao Xingjian's Works

leftEarly in his life Gao was influenced by playwrights like Samuel Beckett and Antonin Artaud and the surrealist Eugene Ionesco. In awarding him the Nobel Prize The Swedish Academy said he produced "an oeuvre of universal validity, bitter insight and linguistic ingenuity" and explores "the struggle of the individual to survive the history of the masses."

Joyce Hor-chung Lau wrote in the New York Times: Gao’s plays include “Absolute Signal,” “Bus Stop” and “Wild Man.” “Of Mountains and Seas” is an irreverent retelling of ‘shanhaijing,” an ancient text that includes the classic Chinese creation myth. Nu Wa, a wailing banshee of a goddess, expels the first humans from her bowels. They are a dirty, noisy, vulgar lot, dressed in rough canvas clothes, with distorted masks held over their faces. They fight and dance and copulate, to bear even more dusty offspring. Local viewers would recognize elements from Chinese mythology: The handsome Yi the Archer shoots down 9 of the 10 suns scorching the earth. His wife, the lovely Chang E, wishes for immortality and rises up to the moon, in a legend still celebrated during the Mid-Autumn Festival. There is a universality to the symbolism: the flawed woman eating the forbidden fruit, the punishing deluge cleansing the bickering mortals below, a god who becomes a civilization’s first emperor. [Source: Joyce Hor-chung Lau, New York Times, March 1, 2012]

Bus Stop (1983) has been described as a "kind of Zen theater of the absurd." It was condemned by the Communists as "pernicious.” Fugitives is his most overtly political play. It is set during Tiananmen Square. The short stories The Temple and The Accident were published in the New Yorker. The former is a sweet story about the innocent happiness of Chinese newlyweds. The former describes the reaction by bystanders to a man killed when a bus hits his bicycle.

The novel Soul Mountain (1989) is regarded as Gao's masterpiece. The Swedish Academy called it "one of those singular literary creations that seems impossible not to compare with anything but themselves." Its name is inspired by a 10-month walking tour Gao took along the Yangtze River.

Much of the appeal of the work is lost in translation. After reading the first translation released in the United States, Paul Gray wrote in Time, "Reading Soul Mountain in this version is a frustrating experience chiefly because of the sense that there must be more to it than this...It is in a strange and often irksome form of English. Run on sentences sprawl...Gao...is regarded as a master of the Chinese language. Perhaps that skill cannot be completely conveyed in a translation, but a better use of English might have helped." One sentence goes: "I hadn't originally intended to do any reading, what if I did read one book more or one book less, whether I read or not wouldn't make a difference, I'd be waiting to get cremated." There are also sentences like "Many pretty young girls have also suicided."

Wolfgang Kubin, the respected Sinologist and professor at the University of Bonn, wrote. “I have never read deeper condemnation of a Chinese writer than that of Gao Xingjian in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, first in 2000 and then last year. But, I have to confess, I'd prefer dying to writing Soul Mountain and winning the Nobel Prize for Literature for it, as the novel is a real shame.”

Su Tong

20111122-amazon su tong 4.jpg
Su Tong is known for dark, provocative works which have been popular but have sometimes put him at odds with the authorities. His most famous work is the novella Wives and Concubines (1989), which was adapted into the art-house favorite and Oscar-nominated film, Raise the Red Lantern by Chinese director Zhang Yimou. He has written six novels including Rice and My Life as Emperor. The latter offers insight into ruthless Imperial power in all its bloody glory. Several of his books have been translated into English by Howard Goldplatt.

Su Tong burst onto the Chinese literary scene in the mid-eighties. Since then, his prolific and provocative work’seven novels, a dozen novellas, over 120 short stories, with translations available in a dozen languages. He won the 2009 Man Asian Literary Prize for his novel The Boat to Redemption . His 1992 novels Rice and My Life as Emperor already evidence the turn toward realism and portentous history often noted in post-[Tiananmen] Massacre works by Yu Hua (author of To Live ).

“In the academic circle, Su is regarded as one of the contemporary “avant-garde writers” together with Hong Feng, Yu Hua, Ma Yuan, Ge Fei and others. Their works appeared in the 1980s challenging readers with breakthroughs in the form of narration. Critics say these writers have been experimenting with new ideas and some of their works are now being considered classics.” [Source: Liu Jun, China Daily, November 17 2009]

Su is known as a writer who deals sympathetically with women and their feelings. Some of works also contain a fair amount of violence and abuse. When questioned about the violence in his works, Su said he often asks himself the same question. But he argues that what matters is how people deal with the violent legacy of bygone times. “I won't write a novel based on violence. But when I try to capture the bloody smell of iron typical of that time, I shall never avoid it,” Su told the China Daily. [Ibid]

Su Tong’s Early Life

Su Tong was born in 1963, graduated from Beijing Normal University and now is based in Nanjing. Both of Su's parents come from a small island in the Yangtze River and Su was born and grew up by the river in Suzhou, Jiangsu province. It was long a dream of his to write a novel themed on the river.[Source: Liu Jun, China Daily, November 17 2009]

‘su often compares his memories to a box of jewelry, in which lies a bullet. This was inspired by his frightened mother picking up the then 3-year-old Su and taking him to another room when a bullet hit the family's door, close to where Su was sleeping. Su later learned during in the chaotic period leading up to the Cultural Revolution an armed mob had seized a tower across the river and was shooting from it randomly.”This is my first memory, a memory about society and life, a memory that hints at my future in literature,” Su said.” [Ibid]

‘su became an avid reader at 9, when nephritis confined him to bed. The newspapers pasted on the wall and ceiling were his first teachers, until his elder sister found banned foreign literature from friends and trash tips.” In the 1980s Su studied literature at Beijing Normal University, at a time when writers were seen as heroes.” [Ibid]

“His first novelette was published in 1983, but it wasn't until four years later that his literary career took off. Su wrote about a mulberry garden, based on his early memories, but the draft was turned down by a number of publishers until an editor went to the restroom with a pile of papers to pass the time and spotted his talent. “It was only 5,000 words, but it was a very bright spot. I discovered only then that novel-writing can be relevant to the heart and soul,” Su said.” [Ibid]

Su now lives in Nanjing, the capital of Jiangsu.

Su Tong wins Man Asian Prize Su Tong wins Man Asian Prize

20111122-amazon Su Tong.jpg
At the age of 46 Su Tong won the Man Asian Literary Prize in 2009 for The Boat of Redemption , a novel by Su Tong about a disgraced Chinese Communist Party official who is exiled with his son after a false claim is exposed.

Set during the Cultural Revolution, The Boat to Redemption is about a womanizing Party official who castrates himself after being banished to a river barge with his young son just after the tumultuous Cultural Revolution. Its title, in Chinese, He An, means “river and shore”, representing the worlds of two different types of people---those who live on steady ground are politically reliable; those who live on boats are “exiles” or politically questionable.

“The panel of three judges, including Indian writer Pankaj Mishra and Irish writer Colm Toibin, described Su's novel as a picaresque, political fable as well as “a parable about the journeys we take in our lives, the distance between the boat of our desires and the dry land of our achievement.” On be awarded the prize, Su said, ‘so it's important to me because I'm a writer who is not famous for winning prizes. I'm more famous for not winning prizes.” [Source: James Pomfret, Reuters, November, 16 2009]

The Man Asian Literary prize, the regional equivalent of the Man Booker prize. It aims to recognize the region's top writers and give them a platform to reach a broader, international audience. It is awarded annually to a work not yet published into English, with the inaugural prize in 2007 won by China's Jiang Rong for “Wolf Totem.” [Ibid]

Boat of Redemption Story

Su told the China Daily, “I'm not sure if The Boat to Redemption can help overseas readers know more about China. It's just a novel centering on the fate of people caught in an absurd time...A nation must have the courage to face its own history, whether it's glorious or shameful, beautiful or gray. Misunderstandings often come from hiding and evasion.”[Source: Liu Jun, China Daily, November 17 2009]

“The action takes place in a small town in eastern China where former town head, Ku Wenxuan, takes his teenage son into self-imposed “exile”, while his wife and others denounce him and doubt if he is the real descendant of a revolutionary mother.” [Ibid]

“The legendary young woman died while smuggling pistols to Communist fighters. Her infant was tossed into the river but a giant carp carried it to an old fisherman. Years later, the fisherman identified Ku in the orphanage, because he had a fish-like birthmark on his bottom. Ironically, almost every man in town has a fish birthmark.” [Ibid]

“Su's portrayal of the protagonist turns surreal as Ku's quest for redemption becomes extreme, from self-castration to suicide. The story concludes with Ku's son finding a fish at the place where Ku threw himself into the river, carrying his mother's tombstone.” [Ibid]

“The story is told through the eyes of Ku Wenxuan's son, whose tension with his father drives the story and whose journeys between the boat and shore bring to life an absurd period of Chinese history.” [Ibid]

Writing Boat of Redemption

20111122-amazon Su Tong 3.jpg
“I'm very sensitive to the word 'river'. Sometimes I get startled at the word, as if a fire was lit in my heart,” he said in a speech at Peking University in September. Su was concerned that his passion for literature would dim with age and promised himself that he would fulfill his dream of writing about the river before he turned 40. [Source: Liu Jun, China Daily, November 17 2009]

“However, it wasn't until 2006 when he took his daughter to visit their old home in Suzhou that he was inspired to start writing. They stood on a bridge littered with rubbish and a fleet of barges sailed by. “I hadn't seen the barges for years. When they went by my mind suddenly lit up. I realized that the story of the river should take place on a boat.” Though he has never lived on a boat, Su is fascinated by boat life, its colorful and earthy expressions. Su depicts sailors as more lenient and uninhibited than bank dwellers.” [Ibid]

‘su Tong must have been born to write, says his friend Wang Gan, who waited seven years to edit his “best work”---The Boat to Redemption. The novel carries all the iconic ‘Su's images and symbols”---river, childhood, death and castration, which appeared in his former works, Wang says in an e-mail interview. The two first met in 1986 and later worked for a literary magazine in the same office.” [Ibid]

“Wang was hugely relieved and ecstatic when Su called him in 2007 to say that he had begun work on the “real thing”. Half a year later, Wang heard that Su had to throw away some 100,000 words and start from the scratch all over again. Su later told reporters that he was living in a self-imposed confinement for three months in a “quiet and solemn” place in Leipzig, Germany, where the only sound he heard was that of birds' twittering. However, he just couldn't get the right feel.” [Ibid]

“When Su finally sent him the novel last December, Wang devoured the first two chapters, but then slowed down. “I didn't want to finish the pleasure of reading too quickly. I savored it little by little like a child licking a lollypop. ‘su has surpassed himself again. His novel announces the end of the 'avant-garde literature' era.” [Ibid]

Excerpt from The Boat to Redemption

“Most people live on dry land, in houses. But my father and I live on a barge. Nothing surprising about that, since we are boat people; the terra firma does not belong to us.” [Source: China Daily, November 17 2009]

“Everyone knows that the Sunnyside Fleet plies the waters of the Golden Sparrow River all year round, so life for Father and me hardly differs from that of fish: Whether heading upriver or down, most of our time is spent on the water. It's been eleven years. I'm still young and strong, but my father, a rash and careless man, is sinking inexorably into the realm of the aged.” [Ibid]

“Ever since the autumn he has been exhibiting strange symptoms, some age-related, some not. The pupils of his eyes are shrinking and becoming increasingly cloudy---sort of fish-like. He hardly ever sleeps any more; from morning to night he observes life on the shore through fish eyes filled with dejection, occasionally managing to doze a bit in the early morning hours, as he fills the cabin with a faint fishy odor, the earthy smell of a carp, at times especially heavy---even worse, I think, than a dead fish on a line. Sighs of torment escape from his mouth one minute and transparent bubbles merrily appear the next. I've noticed spots on the backs of his hands and along his spine; a few are brown or dark red, but most glisten like silver, and it's these that are beginning to worry me. I can't help thinking that my father will soon grow scales on his body. He has lived an extraordinary life, and I'm afraid he's on the verge of turning into a fish.” [Ibid]

“Anyone who lives on the banks of the Golden Sparrow River is familiar with the martyr Deng Shaoxiang. Hers is a name that appeals to all, refined or common, a stirring musical note in the region's revolutionary history. My father's fate is tied up with the ghost of Deng Shaoxiang. For Ku Wenxuan, my father, was once Deng Shaoxiang's son. Please note that I said 'once'. I had no choice, I had to say it, however inconsequential a word it might seem to you. You see, it is the key to unlocking the story of my father's life.” [Ibid]

Su Tong's Tattoo

The advertisement of Su Tong’s book Tattoo: Three Novellas goes: “From the author of Wives and Concubines and many other major works of contemporary Chinese fiction comes a new collection of novellas that ranges from mystery in swinging prewar Shanghai to the violent gangs of the Cultural Revolution.In The Gardener’s Art, a family dispute ends in the disappearance of a wealthy dentist. As his wife and children plunge into crisis and suspicion, the clues of the case lead them into Shanghai’s seamy side. A brilliant evocation of a vanished pre-Communist time, in all its glamor and squalor. [Ibid]

A Divorce Handbook is the bitterly funny tale of a man, unhappy in marriage, who comes up against the inflexible attitudes of a traditional society. One of the most perceptive works to chart China’s shifting social mores. In Tattoo, a lame adolescent is marked by the death of his brother in gang warfare. Overcoming his injuries through the practice of martial arts, he seeks to revive the flagging fortunes of his gang, but must face treachery and contempt at every turn. [Ibid]

Jeffrey C. Kinkley wrote in World Literature Today: “The three novellas collected here, written in the 1990s are sparer and not so showy [compared to the Su Tong’s 1992 novels Rice and My Life as Emperor] though they could still be called urban Chinese period pieces. A mystery of this collection, “The Gardener’s Art,” is set in 1930s Shanghai. The title story, which closes the volume, dramatizes primitive violence and the tattoos that served as “colors” for urban gangs of the 1970s just before Mao’s death. As always, Su Tong depicts bullying, vengeance, and cruelty, but here he renders these acts deftly and without sensationalism. The effect is not melodrama, but visions of pervasive ugliness, squalor, and malodor. The mystery piece, about a missing husband, is really a vehicle for exploring verbal harassment, snobbery, and paternal fecklessness in the eternal Chinese family and the neighborhoods hiding it. That novella continues the theme of the opening work, “A Divorce Handbook,” which details the rage of a woman scorned, her ability to enlist her birth family and China’s mean streets to achieve violent retribution, and the emptiness of her husband’s dreams for a better life. The raw passions of Chinese divorce emerge more quickly and adroitly than in Ha Jin’s Waiting. The tattoos in Su Tong’s novella of that name evoke his fascination with fetishes and obsessions, but now with the narrative economy of a master storyteller who has a fine grasp of human psychology.”

Book Tattoo: Three Novellas by Su Tong, translated by Josh Stenberg (Merwin Asia, 2012).

Ma Jian

20111122-amazon Ma Jian.jpg
Ma Jian is a Chinese writer who was present at the Tiananmen Square protests and now lives in self-imposed exile in London. In the mid-1980s, divorced from his first wife and abandoned by his girlfriend, he left his home with a camera, notebook and copy of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass and embarked on a three-year journey around China, getting by on odd jobs and the kindness of friends and strangers. Ma in China.

The description of his travels became Red Dust, a book described by Pankaj Mishra in The New Yorker as “the most vivid description of the Chinese people freshly liberated from Maoism, picking their way through a transformed moral landscape in which extreme poverty and repression coexist with alluring new possibilities of self invention.” The book ‘seethes with the fraught humanity of a people lurching between credulousness and opportunism, deprivation and semi-bourgeois respectability.”

Beijing Coma by Ma Jian (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2008) is the story of a man who lies in a coma after being shot by stray bullet during the Tiananmen Square massacre. It explores the divisions that existed within the protesters as well as the forces that drove them and features flashbacks to events before the massacre. The narrator describes the changes that occur across China as he lies in a coma.

Xiaolu Guo

Xiaolu Guo wrote A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers, shortlisted in 2007 for the Orange Prize, an award given for the best new English-language novel by a woman; and Twenty Fragments of a Ravenous Youth, about a young migrant worker who makes a life for herself in the big city.

Xiaolu Guo was born in a fishing village in southern China in 1973 and now divides her time between Beijing and London. Her features film How Is Your Fish Today? was an official selection for the Sundance Film Festival in 2007. Like her literary works it follow the paths of migrants from rural China as they attempt to make a better life for themselves in the cities.

Liu Liu and Marriage of Miss Su

20111122-amazon ma jian 4.jpg
In The Marriage of Miss Su , a collection of 12 short stories, Liu Liu wrote: "All misfortunes are alike, but every happiness is unique...Misfortunes are nothing more than life, death, old age and sickness, while happiness means something different to every individual." [Source: Yang Guang, China Daily, April 23, 2011]

Liu Liu, aka "Sister Sharp"---is a Singapore-based novelist and playwright, whose real name is Zhang Xin. is known for her incisive insights into much-talked-about topics pertinent to people's daily lives. Most of her stories have been adapted into popular TV series.

Wang Gui and An Na (2003) narrates the bitter-sweet marriage of farmer-turned-professor Wang Gui and romantic factory worker An Na. Double-sided Sticky Tape (2005) dramatizes the tragic conflicts between metropolitan Shanghai woman Lijuan and her traditional mother-in-law from Northeast China's countryside. Dwelling Narrowness (2007) portrays two sisters' painful struggle and sacrifice to buy a house of their own in the city. Publisher An Boshun believes that if "truth" is the word to describe Dwelling Narrowness, then "surprise" is the one for The Marriage of Miss Su.

Each of the 12 heroines - whether she is an "old leftover girl" (in her late 20s or older and single), a young "peacock wife" (women from well-off urban families who marry hard-working men from the countryside) or a thrifty middle-aged housewife - has an O Henrian fate awaiting her.

Liu Liu started writing in 1999, after settling in Singapore with her husband. Before that, she worked in foreign trade and real estate for four years in Shanghai. For a long time, she worked in a kindergarten in the morning, taught Chinese in a private school in the afternoon and - just for fun - posted stories on the Web at night. She didn't expect to become a full-time writer, even after shooting to fame with Wang Gui and An Na in 2003. A heart attack in 2007 made her slow down and decide to make writing her career. "To feel happy, I choose to be an ostrich, to bury my head in the sand and ignore bad news," Liu Liu she told the China Daily, declining to reveal her age.

With 10 books under her belt, Liu Liu says she writes only when she feels she has a story to tell. After Dwelling Narrowness, she thought the source of her inspiration might have dried up. But after tending to her hospitalized mother for a-year-and-a-half, she again felt the urge. The result was her 2010 novel, Heart and Skill, about doctor-patient relationships.

Liu Liu's success is often attributed to her use of "petty gimmicks" when taking on controversial topics. But she says the subjects come to her naturally, because she - like many of her readers - is "caught in the miserable abyss of life".

The Fat Years by Chan Koonchung

Chan Koonchung's political fable The Fat Years is banned in China and became available in English in July 2011. In a review of the book Jonathan Fenby wrote in the The Guardian, “The problem with writing novels set in the near future is that time catches up with you. The Fat Years , set in a China of 2011, appeared in Hong Kong in 2009. At first glance, it might seem that history has overtaken Chan Koonchung's book, since the terrible events it describes have not come to pass. But in fact, the book's central theme remains as valid as when Chan wrote it. Despite being officially banned, the novel has enjoyed a considerable underground audience in mainland China, even becoming a smart item for society hostesses to give to guests. [Source: Jonathan Fenby, The Guardian July 24, 2011]

The Fat Years remains valid because it is not simply a "what might happen" exercise in futurism. Its central conceit---that collective amnesia overtakes the entire country---is an all-encompassing metaphor for today's looming superpower and the question that lies behind its material renaissance since the 1980s---namely, whether a booming economy and an increasingly free individual society can be contained within the political straitjacket of a one-party system that seeks to retain all the levers of power for itself.

The novel's starting point is that a month has gone missing from the official record and from popular memory in a China which bestrides the globe economically, right down to owning Starbucks. Something terrible took place during the vanished month, but the regime, through nefarious means that are only revealed at the end of the novel, has managed to effect a state of near total forgetfulness.

The central character, Old Chen, sets out to find what happened and to understand why everybody is so extraordinarily happy, as he himself is at the start of the book, living in Happiness Village Number Two, and content in the realisation that China has enjoyed continuing growth and ever greater social harmony while the west has wilted after the economic tsunami of 2008.

The person who sets him on this quest is an old flame he meets by chance, Little Xi, an online dissident with an obnoxious Party-lining son. They join with others who question the country's euphoric condition. They meet characters who have made it materially and those who have suffered---on the one side, a real estate tycoon, a jetsetting political adviser and a high-price prostitute; on the other, an underground Christian and a former slave worker. To conclude their investigation, they kidnap a senior official and he spills the beans as to what lies behind the "fat years".

The theme of collective memory loss is particularly apposite in a country where the past is manipulated by those in power and where no public discussion of the official version of, say, the events of 1989 is permitted. Whether a nation can progress without confronting its own past is a question that hovers over the country, which again adds to the novel's pertinence.

Sitting in the comfortable west, it is easy for critics of China to be censorious about the way so many people accept the rush for wealth accumulation and close an eye to the regime's political record and its human rights abuses. But the crude fact is that, after a terrible century and a quarter up to 1978, in which China went through the worst protracted experience of any nation in history, the present era may, indeed, seem like the "fat years".

To touch on so many issues, either directly or by implication, in such a compelling narrative is a triumph, abetted by an excellent translation by Michael Duke. One can only hope that Chan, who was born in Shanghai and raised in Hong Kong, continues to write about the China of today from his current vantage point in Beijing. That will, in its way, be a test of whether the warnings of The Fat Years come true. We can only hope not.

Yang Mu Wins Newman Prize 2012

The Taiwanese poet Yang Mu has been chosen by an international jury as the winner of the third Newman Prize for Chinese Literature. Sponsored by the University of Oklahoma’s Institute for U.S.-China Issues, Newman Prize is awarded biennially in recognition of outstanding achievement in prose or poetry that best captures the human condition, and is conferred solely on the basis of literary merit. Any living author writing in Chinese is eligible. A jury of five distinguished literary experts nominated the five candidates in the summer of 2012 and selected the winner in a transparent voting process the following October. [Ibid]

Yang Mu received $10,000 and received the award at ceremony and academic symposium at the University of Oklahoma in March 2013, hosted by Peter Hays Gries, director of the Institute for US-China Issues , which seeks to advance mutual trust in US-China relations. “The five jurists nominated five exceptionally talented poets,” said director Gries. ‘so they had a very difficult choice. It is a credit to Yang Mu’s extraordinary literary achievement that he emerged the winner after four rounds of positive elimination voting.” The third Newman Prize jury consisted of five internationally recognized jurors: Jennifer Feeley (University of Iowa), Michel Hockx (SOAS, University of London), Wolfgang Kubin (University of Bonn), Michelle Yeh (University of California, Davis) and Zhang Qinghua (Beijing Normal University). [Ibid]

The five nominated poets under consideration were: Yang Mu , Hsia Yu, Yang Lian , Zhai Yongming , and Ouyang Jianghe. Stylistically and formally, each poet displays a high level of originality, ranging from dense lyricism to colloquial narratives, from variations on the sonnet to poetic cycles, from philosophical musings to deconstructive energy. Thematically, the nominees represent remarkable breadth and depth. The judges considered the vision of poetry as beauty and truth; radical challenges to the limit of signification; intricate relations between language and exile; expressions of the female psyche; and critical reflections on a fast-changing China. The diversity and strength of the nominations posed a great challenge for the jury. Yet Yang Mu emerged as the consensus winner after four rounds of positive elimination voting.

Born in 1940 in Hualian on the east coast of Taiwan, Yang Mu has produced an extraordinary corpus of poetry and prose over the past five decades. After graduating from college, he attended the University of Iowa, where he received an MFA. He went on to earn a PhD in comparative literature from the University of California at Berkeley. He has taught at the University of Washington in Seattle for many years, and as a visiting professor at Princeton and National Taiwan University, among others. He has also served as the dean of humanities at National Dong Hwa University in his hometown Hualian, and as the founding director of the Institute of Literature and Philosophy at Academia Sinica, Taiwan. Yang Mu started writing poetry in 1956 and has published 14 original books of poetry to date, most of which are gathered in the three volume Collected Works of Yang Mu. [Ibid]

“Yang Mu,” Michelle Yeh comments, “is an innovator, a supreme craftsman. His deep engagement in world literature, cultures, and history has given his work a versatility and profundity that is unparalleled among Chinese poets today, perhaps even in the entire history of modern Chinese poetry. He has created a language that is densely lyrical and charged with a diction that runs the spectrum from the colloquial to the archaic, a syntax that is supple and complex, and a tone that ranges from playfulness to passion, and to despair. He moves easily from the world of tangibles to the world of abstraction, with images rich and precise. His poetic world is cosmopolitan and global on the one hand, and decidedly native and local on the other. Some of his most powerful poems reveal an unwavering love for and identity with Taiwan. Yang Mu has inspired several generations of poets in the Chinese-speaking world. He has produced a body of work brilliant and impressive in its range: reticent, controlled, yet musical, adventuresome, and linguistically surprising line-by-line. The reader thinks with him, inside the poem and inside his mind and emotions, and emerges more aware of the world and what it means to be human.”

Mainland Chinese novelists Mo Yan and Han Shaogong won the 2009 and 2011 Newman Prizes for Chinese Literature respectively. [Ibid]

Image Sources: Amazon, University of Washington, Ohio State University, Amazon.com, Nolls China website http://www.paulnoll.com/China/index.html , Wikipedia, Achievement.org, Landberger posters

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Page Top

© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated January 2013

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from factsanddetails.com, please contact me.