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Lu Xun or Lu Hsun (Zhou Shuren or Chou Shujen, 1881–1936) is generally regarded as China's greatest writer of the modern period. Mao Dun (Shen Yanbing, 1896–1981) and Ba Jin (Li Feigan, 1904-2005) were leading novelists. Lin Yutang (Yut'ang, 1895–1976) popularized Chinese culture in the West. In the New Culture Movement (1917-23), literary writing style was largely replaced by the vernacular in all areas of literature. This was brought about mainly by Lu Xun , China's first major stylist in vernacular prose (other than the novel), and the literary reformers Hu Shi (1891-1962) and Chen Duxiu (1880-1942). Xiao Hong (1911-1941), Yu Dafu (1896-1945), Lao She (1899-1966), and Zhang Ailing (1920-1995) were all notable writers. [Source: Library of Congress]

“The late 1920s and 1930s were years of creativity in Chinese fiction, and literary journals and societies espousing various artistic theories proliferated. Among the major writers of the period were Guo Moruo (1892-1978), a poet, historian, essayist, and critic; Mao Dun (1896-1981), the first of the novelists to emerge from the League of Left-Wing Writers and one whose work reflected the revolutionary struggle and disillusionment of the late 1920s; and Ba Jin (b. 1904), a novelist whose work was influenced by Ivan Turgenev and other Russian writers. In the 1930s Ba Jin produced a trilogy that depicted the struggle of modern youth against the age-old dominance of the Confucian family system. Comparison often is made between Jia (Family), one of the novels in the trilogy, and Hong Lou Meng. Another writer of the period was the gifted satirist and novelist Lao She (1899-1966). Many of these writers became important as administrators of artistic and literary policy after 1949. Most of those still alive during the Cultural Revolution were either purged or forced to submit to public humiliation.

The League of Left-Wing Writers was founded in 1930 and included Lu Xun in its leadership. By 1932 it had adopted the Soviet doctrine of socialist realism, that is, the insistence that art must concentrate on contemporary events in a realistic way, exposing the ills of nonsocialist society and promoting the glorious future under communism. ]

Websites and Sources: Modern Chinese Literature and Culture (MCLC); Classics: Chinese Text Project ; Side by Side Translations; Classic Novels: Journey to the West site ; English Translation PDF File ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Chinese Culture: China ; China Culture Online ;Chinatown Connection ; Transnational China Culture Project

19th and 20th Century Chinese Writers

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Rickshaw Boy by Lao She
The May 4 movement of 1919 started out as student protests against a decision at the Paris Peace Conference, after the first world war, to award Japan control of German concessions in China's Shandong province. It soon encompassed a broader debate about how China should modernize. It spawned a host of writers famous throughout the Chinese world, including Lu Xun.

Other writers associated with a brief period of modernization around the time of Hundred Day Reform in 1898 include Kang Youwei, an iconoclastic interpreter of Confucian philosophy who influenced Emperor Guangxi; and Liang Qichao, a gifted writer who was smuggled into Japan after the Emperor's arrest. Both men mixed politics and literature but eventually turned their backs on radical politics. Kang became interested in cosmology; Liang in history.

In a review of “Red-light Novels of the Late Qing“ by Chloe F. Starr, John Christopher Hamm of the University of Washington wrote: “As a mere reader of fiction, I always found the late Qing and early Republican novels set in the world of courtesans and their clients rather rough going. Anything but ‘sexy,” they seemed to portray characters ranging from the pitiable to the contemptible, playing out programmatic fates in a world whose claustrophobia-inducing narrowness was intensified by the plots' indefatigable repetition of trivial detail and the narration's pose of somewhat precious self-awareness.”

Zhang Xianliang, the author of the sexually-explicit “Half of Man is Woman” is writer many say is worth checking out. Ba Jin (1905-2005) was a prolific writer whose books are required reading for most Chinese middle school students. He wrote throughout his century-long life and us best-known for his semi-autobiographical trilogy “Family” 1937); “Spring” (1938) and “Autumn” (1940), about the struggle of a large family to break away from the control of its elders. Xu Zhimo (1897-1931) was one of China's most distinguished poets of the twentieth century. In November 1931 he died tragically in a plane crash on his way from Nanjing to Beijing for a literary event. He attended Columbia University in the United States.

Xiao Hong (1911-1941) was a female writer who was influenced by Upton Sinclair and shaped by a real-life encounter with Agnes Smedley, an American war correspondent and fiction writer who was later revealed to be a Soviet spy. Her short story “A Night in a Stable” features Robin Hood-figures. Her unfinished novel, Ma Bole, was translated and completed by Howard Goldblatt as Ma Bole’s Second Life.[Source: Kyle Shernuk, Postdoctoral Research Associate, Council on East Asian Studies, Yale University, MCLC Resource Center Publication, June 2021; Book: “A Rethinking the Modern Chinese Canon: Refractions Across the Transpacific” by Clara Iwasaki (Cambria Press, 2020)]

Columbia Companion to Modern Chinese Literature

The “Columbia Companion to Modern Chinese Literature, edited by Kirk A. Denton (Columbia University Press, 2016), features more than fifty short essays on specific writers and literary trends from the Qing period (1895–1911) to the present. The volume opens with thematic essays on the politics and ethics of writing literary history, the formation of the canon, the relationship between language and form, the role of literary institutions and communities, the effects of censorship, the representation of the Chinese diaspora, the rise and meaning of Sinophone literature, and the role of different media in the development of literature. Subsequent essays focus on authors, their works, and the schools with which they were aligned, featuring key names, titles, and terms in English and in Chinese characters. Woven throughout are pieces on late Qing fiction, popular entertainment fiction, martial arts fiction, experimental theater, post-Mao avant-garde poetry, post–martial law fiction from Taiwan, contemporary genre fiction from China, and recent Internet literature. The volume includes essays on such authors as Liang Qichao, Lu Xun, Shen Congwen, Eileen Chang, Jin Yong, Mo Yan, Wang Anyi, Gao Xingjian, and Yan Lianke.

Part I) Thematic Essays: 1) Historical Overview, by Kirk A) Denton, 2) Modern Chinese Literature as an Institution: Canon and Literary History, by Yingjin Zhang, 3) Language and Literary Form, by Charles Laughlin, 4) Literary Communities and the Production of Literature, by Michel Hockx, 5) Between Tradition and Modernity: Contested Classical Poetry, by Shengqing Wu, 6) Diaspora in Modern Chinese Literature, by Shuyu Kong, 7) Sinophone Literature, by Brian Bernards, 8) Chinese Literature and Film Adaptation, by Hsiu-Chuang Deppman

Part II) Authors, Works, Schools: 9) The Late Qing Poetry Revolution: Liang Qichao, Huang Zunxian, and Chinese Literary Modernity", by Jianhua Chen, 10) The Uses of Fiction: Liang Qichao and His Contemporaries, by Alexander DesForges, 11) Late Qing Fiction, by Ying Hu, 12) Zhou Shoujuan's Love Stories and Mandarin Ducks and Butterflies Fiction, by Jianhua Chen, 13) Form and Reform: New Poetry and the Crescent Moon Society, by John Crespi, 14) Reconsidering the Origins of Modern Chinese Women's Writing, by Amy Dooling, 15) The Madman That Was Ah Q: Tradition and Modernity in Lu Xun's Fiction, by Ann Huss, 16) Romantic Sentiment and the Problem of the Subject: Yu Dafu, by Kirk A) Denton, 17) Feminism and Revolution: The Work and Life of Ding Ling, by Jingyuan Zhang, 18) The Debate on Revolutionary Literature, by Charles Laughlin, 19) Mao Dun, the Modern Novel, and the Representation of Women, by Hilary Chung, 20) Ba Jin's Family: Fiction, Representation, and Relevance, by Nicholas Kaldis, 21) Chinese Modernism: The New Sensationists, by Steven L) Riep, 22) Shen Congwen and Imagined Native Communities, by Jeffrey Kinkley, 23) Xiao Hong's Field of Life and Death, by Amy Dooling, 24) Performing the Nation: Chinese Drama and Theater, by Xiaomei Chen, 25) Cao Yu and Thunderstorm, by Jonathan Nobel, 26) The Reluctant Nihilism of Lao She's Rickshaw, by Thomas Moran, 27) Eileen Chang and Alternative Wartime Narrative, by Nicole Huang, 28) Literature and Politics: Mao Zedong's "Yan'an Talks" and Party Rectification, by Kirk A) Denton, 29) Qian Zhongshu and Yang Jiang: A Literary Marriage, by Christopher Rea,

30) Revolutionary Realism and Revolutionary Romanticism: The Song of Youth, by Ban Wang, 31) The Hundred Flowers: Qin Zhaoyang, Wang Meng, and Liu Binyan, by Richard King, 32) Cold War Fiction from Taiwan and the Modernists, by Christopher Lupke, 33) Nativism and Localism in Taiwanese Literature, by Christopher Lupke, 34) The Cultural Revolution Model Theater, by Di Bai, 35) Martial-Arts Fiction and Jin Yong, by John Christopher Hamm, 36) Taiwanese Romance: San Mao and Qiong Yao, by Miriam Lang, 37) Misty Poetry, by Michelle Yeh, 38) Scar Literature and the Memory of Trauma, by Sabina Knight, 39) Culture Against Politics: Roots-Seeking Literature, by Mark Leenhouts, 40) Mo Yan, by Yomi Braester, 41) Avant-Garde Fiction in Post-Mao China, by Andrew F) Jones, 42) Contemporary Experimental Theaters in the PRC, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, by Rossella Ferrari, 43) Modern Poetry of Taiwan, by Michelle Yeh, 44) Same-Sex Love in Recent Chinese Literature, by Thomas Moran, 45) Contemporary Urban Fiction: Rewriting the City, by Robin Visser and Jie Lu, 46) Xi Xi and Tales of Hong Kong, by Daisy S)Â Y) Ng, 47) Writing Taiwan's Fin-de-Siècle Splendor: Zhu Tianwen and Zhu Tianxin, by Lingchei Letty Chen, 48) Wang Anyi, by Lingzhen Wang, 49) Wang Shuo, by Jonathan Noble, 50) Commercialization of Literature in the Post-Mao Era, by Zhen Zhang, 51) Popular Genre Fiction: Science Fiction and Fantasy, by Mingwei Song, 52) Word and Image: Gao Xingjian, by Mabel Lee, 53) Hong Kong Voices: Literature from the Late Twentieth Century to the New Millennium, by Esther M)Â K) Cheung, 54) Avant-Garde Poetry in China Since the 1980s, by Maghiel van Crevel, 55) Taiwan Literature in the Post–Martial Law Era, by Michael Berry, 56) Speaking from the Margins: Yan Lianke, by Carlos Rojas, 57) Internet Literature: From YY to MOOC, by Heather Inwood

May 4th Movement

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “Beginning around 1917, Chinese intellectuals began to engage each other in serious discussion and debate on culture, history, philosophy, and related subjects — all with an eye to the bigger problem of China’s weakness and the possible solutions to that problem. This period of intellectual debate, labeled the May Fourth Movement, lasted to around 1921. Literature played a major part in the lives and the intellectual debates of the Chinese intellectuals of the May Fourth period and on into the 1920s and 1930s. Writing in the vernacular (rather than in the stilted and inaccessible classical forms that had been the “proper” way of writing), a new generation of Chinese authors tackled social and political issues in essays, short stories, novels, and satires. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, ]

On May 4, 1919, there were student demonstrations against the Beijing government and Japan. The political fervor, student activism, and iconoclastic and reformist intellectual currents set in motion by the patriotic student protest developed into a national awakening known as the May Fourth Movement. The intellectual milieu in which the May Fourth Movement developed was known as the New Culture Movement and occupied the period from 1917 to 1923. The student demonstrations of May 4, 1919 were the high point of the New Culture Movement, and the terms are often used synonymously. Students returned from abroad advocating social and political theories ranging from complete Westernization of China to the socialism that one day would be adopted by China's communist rulers. [Source: The Library of Congress]

In 1919, at the Versailles peace conference after World War I, the Allied powers announced that they had no plans of returning lost territory to China as some had expected and handed over German possessions in Shandong province to the Japanese. Anti-foreigner resentment rose after the decision was announced. On May 4, 1919, about 3,000 students, scholars and dissident intellectuals from 13 colleges gathered in Tiananmen Square to protest the loss of Chinese territory in Shandong to Japan.

The May 4th Movement started out as student protests against the decision at the Paris Peace Conference to award Japan control of German concessions in China's Shandong province. It soon encompassed a broader debate about how China should modernize. Student activism gained strength in the late 1910s and the 1920s and became known as the May Fourth Movement. There was a large-scale rejection of Confucianism and a rise in social action, both of which helped furl the communist revolution. The movement spawned a host of writers famous throughout the Chinese world, including Lu Xun, who, like George Orwell, wrote biting social satire and sought to change what they viewed as a corrupt, backward and foreign-dominated China.

Sebastian Veg wrote in China Perspectives: The understanding of May Fourth in China today, at least outside academia, remains firmly anchored in the national narrative set out in the two Chinese Communist Party resolutions on Party history (1945 and 1981): the revolution is presented as a prerequisite for national revival, as also illustrated in the official blockbuster “Beginning of the Great Revival” (Jian dang wei ye, 2011). The New Culture movement is thus reduced to the “patriotic” demonstrations of 1919, blotting out the ideological diversity that blossomed from 1915, encompassing anarchism, liberalism, and localism..[Source: Sebastian Veg, China Perspectives, September 2014]

Mandarin Ducks, Butterflies and Wuxia

The Mandarin Ducks and Butterflies school was a popular genre of Chinese fiction in the first half of the 20th century, especially in the 1920s. Mandarin ducks (which are frequently seen in pairs) and butterflies (from Butterfly Lovers) are traditional symbols of romantic love, but the genre encompassed more than romance stories: scandals and "high crimes" were also favorite subjects. Mandarin Ducks and Butterflies stories were disparaged by progressive writers of the May Fourth school for being essentially escapist and showing no social responsibility. The genre gradually fell out of favor following Japanese invasions in the 1930s. Zhang Henshui's 1930 novel Fate in Tears and Laughter is a representative work of this school. Su Manshu 's 'The Lone Swan' is another representative work for this genre. [Source: Wikipedia]

Wuxia, which literally means "martial heroes", is a genre of Chinese fiction involving the adventures of martial artists in ancient China. Although it has traditionally been a form of fantasy literature, it is popular that it has been adapted to opera, television series, many famous Kung Fu movies and even video games. The word wuxia is a compound wu ("martial", "military", or "armed") and xiá ("chivalrous", "vigilante" or "hero"). Practitioners of the code of xia is often referred to as a xiákè ("follower of xia") or yóuxiá ("wandering xia"). In some translations, the martial hero is called a "swordsman" or "swordswoman" even though he or she may not necessarily wield a sword. [Source: Wikipedia]

The heroes in wuxia fiction typically do not serve a lord, wield military power, or belong to the aristocratic class. They often originate from the lower social classes of ancient Chinese society. A code of chivalry usually requires wuxia heroes to right and redress wrongs, fight for righteousness, remove oppressors, and bring retribution for past misdeeds. Chinese xia traditions can be compared to martial codes from other cultures, such as the Japanese samurai bushidō.

Chinese Pulp Fiction in the Early 20th Century

Modern Chinese popular literature including “pulp” genres like brothel novels, novels of exposure, historical romances, martial arts novels, detective fiction and the like that were traditionally dismissed by the China’s orthodox literary elite but were hugely popular from the turn of the 20th century until the Communists came to power in 1949. In a review of “A History of Modern Chinese Popular Literature” by Fan Boqun, John A. Crespi wrote: Fan’s magnum opus” is “the product of a lifetime of research on mass-market fiction, most of it originally published by installment in the tabloids, newspapers, and magazines of China’s major cities, especially Shanghai, from the 1890s through the 1940s. Fan’s term for this category of writing, “popular literature” , he devised to distinguish it from the ideological mainstream of “elite literature” that grew out of the New Literature movement in the late 1910s.[Source: John A. Crespi, Colgate University, MCLC Resource Center Publication, Copyright July 2021]

“In Fan’s view, elite (foreign-influenced) and popular (native Chinese) literature both contain modernizing impulses. Remarkable, according to Fan, is that the “founding work of Chinese popular literature,” Han Bangqing’s 1890s serialized brothel novel Legends of Shanghai Flowers , was a local, spontaneous, but “inevitable” response to modern industry, commerce, and urbanization more than twenty years before the foreign-derived New Literature movement had begun. What this shows, Fan says, is that “without the driving force of foreign literatures, Chinese popular writers would begin their journey on the road to modernization with their works all the same”. Fifty years and over 700 pages later, Fan concludes his chronology by emphasizing how 1940s writers of popular literature, in particular Zhang Ailing had successfully blended the traditional influences governing popular literature with the foreign influences distinguishing elite literature.

“Whatever one chooses to make of Fan’s overall narrative scheme, between Han Bangqing and Zhang Ailing, History traverses a prodigious quantity of fictional and semi-fictional writing. He lays the foundation for the book in the first two chapters. Chapter 1 focuses on several early works representing the “buds” of popular fiction in the 1890s: Legends of Shanghai Flowers, Sun Yusheng’s (Sun Jiazhen ) Dream of a Bustling Shanghai , Zhang Chunfan’s Nine-tailed Tortoise , and Tianxu Wosheng’s Fate of Tears . Chapter 2 examines the primary medium for early popular literature, tabloids , by addressing the editorial and entrepreneurial work of Li Boyuan and his Leisure Time . Already in these two chapters we find Fan working to graft popular literature and publications onto the tree of mainstream intellectual literature. For instance, with Nine-tailed Tortoise Fan must work around critiques by May Fourth giants Lu Xun and Hu Shi , who saw the novel as little more than a guide to prostitution. Fan rehabilitates the novel and its author by reconceiving the former as a didactic work exposing the deceptions of brothel girls, and the latter by pointing to Zhang Chunfan’s later writing, in particular his The Sea of Politicians (1923-1924), which in Fan’s view proves Zhang to be “a man of chivalry and justice” for its courageous exposure of scheming warlords and unscrupulous politicians. As for Li Boyuan’s Leisure Time, Fan struggles to reconcile what he perceives as a moral inconsistency in the tabloid’s editorial stance. Namely, he wonders how Li could on one hand write an editorial portraying the patronage of brothels and sing-song girls as deadly distraction from the decline of the nation, and then in the same issue announce a column providing daily updates on the names and workplaces of “the Beauties of Shanghai.”

Fan commends Zhou Tianlai for writing “the best brothel novel in the Shanghai style,” the million-character Big Sister from the Shabby Room , serialized in 1938 and centered on an unlicensed prostitute named Gu Xiuzhen , the proverbial hooker with a heart of gold (“a ray of light in the darkness of her occupation,” as Fan puts it) whose clientele represent a broad spectrum of urban society. Finally, Fan lauds the self-taught author Tian Shelang for his skill at writing in the Shanghai vernacular about lower-class urban society in Shanghai’s alleyway neighborhoods during the 1940s. Regarded as Tian’s masterwork, Tailor Boy , tells the story of a tailor’s apprentice who uses nefarious means, ranging from extramarital affairs to female trafficking and rape, to climb the Shanghai social ladder, at the top of which he eventually acquires a high post in the city’s wartime occupation government. What most exercises Fan, however, is when this morally bankrupt protagonist suddenly “drops his base soul and turns out to be a patriotic figure” by virtue of assassinating an official of the occupation regime, a plot twist that for Fan defies narrative logic.

“As already noted, Fan’s History culminates in the synthesis of popular and elite literature in the 1940s. Alongside Zhang Ailing’s (Eileen Chang's) work, Fan reviews novels by two lesser-known representatives of a “new generation” of popular writers of the time, Xu Xu and Bu Naifu (a.k.a. Wumingshi). Xu Xu, famous for his Love with a Ghost (1937), which Fan interprets as a gothic novel, and Soughing Wind (1943-1944), a wartime bestseller Fan describes as Western-influenced romantic spy fiction. All three writers, Zhang Ailing, Xu Xu, and Bu Naifu, Fan admires for their ability to “come and go freely” between popular and elite literature and thus, as mentioned earlier, attain a synthesis of the native and foreign elements of literary discourse.

Lu Xun

Lu Xun or Lu Hsun (Zhou Shuren or Chou Shujen, 1881–1936) is generally regarded as China's greatest writer of the modern period. He was China's first major stylist in vernacular prose (other than the novel) and was known as an essayist and short story writer and was the founder of modern Chinese literature. Lu was trained as doctor and gave up his medical career he said to devote himself to curing social ills with his writing. He loved Jules Verne, and translated his stories into Chinese beginning in 1903 as part of an effort to help China develop an appreciation of Western sciences. Lu eventually gave up writing and took up politics. He allied himself with the Communists around the time of his death in 1936.

Lu Xun is regarded as the pioneer of modern leftist Chinese literature. His poetry, essays and novels focused on China’s need to modernize through revolution. He was born in Zhejiang province, which is considered a a breeding ground of many Chinese artists and intellectuals. Today there is a literary awards named after him: the Lu Xun Award for short stories.

Lu was "noted for his acerbic tongue and critical nature." He wrote in a simple, straight-forward style that contrasting sharply with the complex, classical language that was fashionable at the time he wrote. He resolved to diagnose Chinese society and culture through literature. Like George Orwell, wrote biting social satire and sought to change what they viewed as a corrupt, backward and foreign-dominated China. Among Lu Xun’s more memorable characters is Ah Q, an allegorical, starving man on the street meant to represent the conflicts raging in China at the time.

Lao She

Lao She (1899-1966), the pen name of the Manchu writer Shu Qingchun, is widely regarded as one of the greatest authors of modern Chinese literature. and was considered one of China’s best hopes for the Nobel Prize in Literature. He is best known for his 1937 novel Rickshaw Boy and play Teahouse. Rickshaw Boy, the tragic story of a poor rickshaw puller in Beijing, is so popular that there’s a statue of the main character in the main business district of Beijing. Lao She was widely admired as a “people’s artist. Zhou En-lai, China’s first premier, asked him in 1949 to come back to China after he had moved to New York three years earlier. [Source: Tristan Shaw, Listverse, June 24, 2016 -]

“Lao She was one of China’s greatest writers of a “new vernacular Chinese, not the old literary style,”novelist Koonchung Chan told the Wall Street Journal. Chen Nan wrote in the China Daily: Lao She is best known for his vivid descriptions of grassroots lives that reflect social reality and for his precise depictions of local culture in Beijing, especially his unique humor and use of the city's dialect. His novels, including Rickshaw Boy and Four Generations Under One Roof, and his plays, such as Long Xu Gou (Dragon Beard Ditch) and Teahouse, have earned him a stellar reputation as a linguistic and literary master worldwide. [Source: Chen Nan, China Daily, March 7, 2019]

“Lao She committed suicide at Taiping Lake in Beijing in 1966 during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), leaving a wealth of works that have inspired many generations. For decades, his works have been adapted into plays, movies and TV dramas. Sun Dongxing, a director of some his works, said: "The greatness of Lao She lies in his deep understanding and portrayal of human nature as well as traditional Beijing culture. There is always something connected to our lives through his works. "

Eileen Chang

Eileen Chang(Zhang Ailing (1920-1995) is a popular Chinese writer who was born in Taiwan and fled to Hong Kong and then the United States after the 1949 Revolution. A number of her stories have been made into films by Chinese directors: “Red Rose, White Rose” by Stanley Kwan, “Love in a Fallen City” by Ann Hui and “Lust, Caution” by Ang Lee. Her celebrated early stories and novellas were written in the 1940s and evoke China from that period. Chang is known best as a chronicler of the lives of women in 1940s Shanghai. She reached the pinnacle of her career and became famous at an early age, detested literary fame and notoriety, became near cult-like figures, stalked and hounded by fans and admirers. and became a recluse. Chang died in 1995 alone in a Westwood, Los Angeles apartment.

Gregory McCormic wrote in the Quarterly Conversation, “Eileen Chang’s shadow continues to loom large in the Chinese world... An unfinished book, “ A Little Reunion “---an autobiographical novel that Chang toyed with destroying in the 1970s---was finally published in 2009 after years of rumors and sold out even before the first run of 300,000 copies was released in the mainland and was a the No.1 bestseller for weeks in Hong Kong and Taiwan. “Even some cursory searching of the Internet finds literally hundreds of websites dedicated to Chang’s stories and essays, her life, and her legacy. Without a doubt, Chang’s name and reputation is firmly established in the Chinese-speaking world.” [Source: Gregory McCormic, Quarterly Conversation, June 7, 2010, Gregory McCormick is a freelance writer, editor, and translator. Raised in Idaho, he now lives in Montreal.

“Though she is read widely from Beijing to Singapore, Chang should be read in the West... What Chang offers is what all good literature offers: engaging stories, interesting characters, beautiful central controlling metaphors, and evocative imagery. These works of Chang remain largely unknown in the West, despite two well-regarded novels written in English and a burgeoning Eileen Chang system in academia... and even a 2007 screen adaptation of her novella, “ Lust, Caution “, by famed Taiwanese director Ang Lee.”[Source: Gregory McCormic, Quarterly Conversation, June 7, 2010]

Yu Dafu

Yu Dafu (1896-1945) was the pen name of a modern Chinese short story writer and poet whose real name Yu Wen. He was one of the new literary group initiators, creating the new literary group Chuangzao she (Creation Society). His most famed literary works are “Sinking” (“Chenlun”), “Intoxicating Spring Nights” (“Chunfeng chenzui de wanshang”), “The Past (“Guoqu”) and “Flight” (“Chuben”). Yu Dafu's writing style and main themes profoundly influenced a group of young writers and shaped a romantic trend in Chinese literature in the 1920s and 1930s. He died in the Japanese-occupied Dutch East Indies, likely executed.

Yu Dafu began his writing career in Japan, spent a lot of time in Singapore and ended it in Sumatra. Kyle Shernuk wrote: “As the arch-enigmatic figure of twentieth century Chinese literature, Yu Dafu’s disappearance in Sumatra at the end of World War II has long captivated the imagination of literary scholars and writers. The question of his fate — was he executed by the Japanese? did he survive and continue living under an alias? should he be considered a martyr or traitor? [Source: Kyle Shernuk, Postdoctoral Research Associate, Council on East Asian Studies, Yale University, MCLC Resource Center Publication, June 2021; Book: “A Rethinking the Modern Chinese Canon: Refractions Across the Transpacific” by Clara Iwasaki (Cambria Press, 2020)]

“Yu’s close colleague in Singapore, Hu Yuzhi, who fled with Yu to Sumatra after the Japanese invasion and later published an account of Yu’s disappearance in Hong Kong in 1946. Hu is confident that Yu is dead but less sure about who is responsible. In Hu’s account, the man who led Yu away from home on the night of his disappearance was not Japanese but possibly a “Chinese” collaborator of Taiwanese or Malay extraction.

Japanese scholar Suzuki Masao attempted to definitively solve the mystery of Yu’s disappearance by recourse to a taped confession from a former Japanese soldier who admits to giving the order to execute Yu; the tape, however, has conveniently disappeared and cannot be corroborated. By contrast, and Sinophone Malaysian writer Ng Kim Chew’s bold and fantastical stories criticize people’s fixation on Yu’s fate and the “extractive logic of the archival researcher”, even going so far as to imagine an alternative fate for Yu as a now-indigenous member of Sumatran society.

Elizabeth Comber (Han Suyin)

Chinese-British writer and physician Elizabeth Comber, whose pen name was Han Suyin, wrote Comber, is the author through whom many English- and French-speaking readers got their earliest images and understanding of China. The Chinese-American writer Frank Chin credits her with being one of the few who "(wrote) knowledgeably and authentically of Chinese fairy tales, heroic tradition and history" in his essay Come All Ye Asian American Writers of the Real and the Fake. She died at the age of 95 in November 2012 at her home in Lausanne, Switzerland. [Source: China Daily, November 5, 2012]

Comber wrote both fiction and nonfiction works, including biographies of Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai, Her semi-autobiographic novel, A Many Splendored Thing, was made into a Hollywood hit in the 1950s, winning three Oscars. Shuttling between China and the Western world, Comber had a colorful life, which was also deeply rooted in her unstoppable pursuit of telling real Chinese stories to her world audience.

Comber was born Rosalie Elisabeth Kuanghu Chow in Henan province in 1917 to a Chinese father who was a railway engineer and a Belgian mother from an aristocratic family. Young Comber dreamed of being a doctor and she pursued the dream by studying medicine in Yenching University and later in Brussels and London. In Brussels she developed a strong literary interest and eagerly read the masterpieces.

Looking back on her days in Chengdu, where she worked as a midwife, she got the inspiration for her debut novel Destination Chungking (Chongqing ). With help from a US colleague, the book was published in the United Kingdom and the United States, which boosted her writer's career. "In my memory, my mother was always busy working in hospitals during the daytime, and busy writing and translating in her spare time at home," her daughter Tang Yungmei told the Guangzhou Daily.

Comber lived in different countries with her second husband, Leon F. Comber, a British officer and later publisher, and with her third husband, Vincent Ratnaswamy, an Indian colonel. Her fiction and nonfiction, written in both English and French, recreated her own experiences and the China she saw during her stays. Eventually, she settled down in Lausanne. As a British citizen, she was among the first foreign nationals to visit China after 1949. Her photos appeared on the news with leaders who she came to know well. She also funded or helped establish several Chinese literary awards to encourage young writers and translators.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, Amazon

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.

Last updated October 2021

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