July 2011 Issue

Translations and summaries written by Chen Ya


A Journey to the Darkside of Humanity 

Page 15-20
By Li Jianjun (李建军)
Original Text
Liu Shi Nü刘氏女
By Zhang Yihe (章诒和)
Guangxi Normal University Press, May 2011
One of the traits of a talented author is her ability to let readers clearly visualize a scene through their use of words. Zhang Yihe (章诒和) is one such author, an expert dramatist. She offers masterful depictions of dramatic scenes and conversations and portrays the most vivid story with the simplest of words.
Her latest work of fiction is called Liu Shi Nü in Chinese and it tells the story of an unfortunate rural woman who is eager for a better life. The woman marries a city man she doesn't know or love. The dark tale tells how the woman eventually kills her husband and loses everything. It is not only a personal tragedy but also a tragedy of the times.  
The novel follows the main character into prison, which is presented as an abnormal and irrational society that is afraid of knowledge and truth.   
The author has drawn on her ten years in prison during the Culture Revolution, which she described as not only a challenge but also an opportunity. During these ten years, she witnessed the most terrible crimes committed and went through unimaginable humiliation.  
Similar to One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Solzhenitsyn, Liu shi nü also describes prison life. Zhang not only describes the petty disputes and hunger, but also the special rules and the cruelty  that exist only in prisons.   

In Solzhenitsyn’s books, the characters are unfortunate; however, they have religious faith and can find comfort in that. In this book, the main character doesn’t have such a blessing. With no  hope of escape, Luna lives in an unsympathetic environment which lacks forgiveness. Reading Liu Shi Nü is like taking an expedition to the darkside  of humanity.

Zhang Yihe is well known in China and abroad for two influential books that ran into trouble with the country's censors: The Past is Not Like Smoke (往事并不如烟) and Past Histories of Peking Opera Stars (伶人往事). You can read more about the controversy surrounding the banning of those two books at China Media Project.
For more background, see this old profile of the author that appeared in The Telegraph back in 2007.

You can also listen to a talk that Zhang gave in Norway last October here.

Wang Anyi: the “Divine Fragrance” of Ancient Books 
Page 23-27
By Tan Xufeng (谭旭峰)
Original Text
Divine Fragrance天香
By Wang Anyi (王安忆)
People's Literature Publishing House, May 2011
Wang Anyi (王安忆), chairwomen of the Writers’ Association of Shanghai, is regarded by some as the successor to Eileen Chang. Her most well-known work, The Song of Everlasting Sorrow (长恨歌), was well received by both critics and ordinary readers. An English translation of the novel was published by Columbia University Press in 2008, you can read a review of the translation here and the first chapter here.  Howard Choy also reflects on the impact of the novel over at China Beat.
The Song of Everlasting Sorrow described the life of a young Shanghai girl in the 1940s all the way till her death after the Cultural Revolution. Like Chang’s work, Wang’s stories are mainly set in Shanghai and offer vivid and detailed description of the city.  
Although Wang's writings have helped to define how people view Shanghai, the author maintains that “Shanghai is not my hometown. I view this city in a subjective manner, so I speak from a bystander’s perspective.” Wang thinks that because no Shanghai blood runs through her veins, it makes her even more sensitive to the nature of the city.  
Wang has just published Divine Fragrance. The book provides a vivid portrait of Shanghai life 300 year ago, through the story of a Shanghai woman whose fortunes match the rise and fall of Gu embroidery.  
The following are excerpts from an interview with Wang.
Q: Divine Fragrance is a story set a few hundred years ago. Why did you choose to make if difficult for yourself to set the story so long ago?  

Wang: I don’t think of it as a barrier. Writing something new each time is typical of a writer. To me Divine Fragrance is not technically a historical novel. It does not talk about a historical event and characters are not historical figures. It just happens to be set at the end of the Ming Dynasty.
Q: Reportedly when collecting information you preferred to go to libraries and to read old newspapers. Why?

Wang: I just don’t like the internet, and I never go on it. If I need information from there, I ask a friend for help. Gathering information on the internet is quite a lonely task. This weakens the experience.  
Q: What experience?

Wang: Let’s say when you gather information in the library, you may come across some people or something out of the ordinary may happen.  
Q: Does Divine Fragrance come mainly from the information you have collected?

Wang: Not exactly. Besides the collected information, my imagination helps to design character relationships and how the plot progresses.
Q: Why did you write a story about Shanghai Gu embroidery?

Wang: The popularity of Shanghai Gu embroidery is something that really happened, but it’s difficult to write about. I was reluctant to start on this story because I was afraid to screw it up. But, now that I’ve finished it, to be honest, I’m very satisfied with this story.  
Q: Some people compare the Divine Fragrance with Dream of the Red Chamber (红楼梦), however, your story ends neither tragically nor happily. Why didn’t you have a tragic ending like Dream of the Red Chamber did?

 Wang: I’m totally flattered when Divine Fragrance is compared with such a masterpiece. Actually, what made me want to write this story is the changing market of Shanghai Gu embroidery. It was first sold to the public, then it became something that only the imperial family could enjoy and then finally it was returned to the general public.  
Lives Claimed by “Starvation” during the “Great Leap Forward”
Page 37-39
By Li Yanchu (李寅初)
Original Text

History of the Chinese Communist Party, Volume 2 (1949-1978)中国共产党历史第二卷(1949—1978)
By The Party History Research Center of the CPC Central Committee (中共中央党史研究室)
China Communist Party History Publishing House, Jan 2011

In January 2011, History of the Chinese Communist Party, Volume 2  (1949 – 1978) was published by the Party History Research Center of CPC Central Committee. It includes various critical events and figures such as the anti-right movement, the Cultural Revolution, Chairman Mao, Liu Shaoqi and Lin Biao.
The most interesting part of this book is data referring to the number of deaths during the Great Leap Forward, from 1958 to 1960. It says thw “mortality rate appears to be much higher because there was a drop in the birth rate in 1960. According to official statistics, the country’s population was 10 million less than the previous year”.
Compared with prior official reports, this book actually shows the sources of the data for the first time. One of the sources is Chinese Statistical Yearbook, which was edited by National Bureau of Statistics in 1983. The other is the 2010 edition of China Compendium of Statistics.  
There is still no agreed mortality data during the Great Leap Forward period, however, experts have studied the controversial topic for decades and estimates have ranged from 10 million to 70 million.  
“In 1960, the country’s population decreased by 10 million.” Such an expression is ambiguous because it ignores the years of 1958, 1959 and 1961 and the 10 million combines all types of death from natural to unnatural without clear classification.
Li Ruojian (李若建), the head of the Population Studies Institute at Sun Yat-Sen University, said that the reasons it’s hard to get the unnatural mortality data during the Great Leap Forward is because “unnatural death” was just a concept and could not be further specified, the population census system changed a lot and some statistics for those years are missing.  
Yang Jisheng (杨继绳), a former senior reporter with Xinhua News Agency, wrote a huge tome about the Great Leap Forward period based on primary materials that included memoirs and other documents he had collected - the book was published in Hong Kong and you can read Ian Johnson's review of Tombstone (墓碑) in the New York Review of Books or Richard McGregor's profile of Yang the Financial Times. Yang Xianhui, a writer from Tianjin, has also published some works of historical fiction about the period including Stories of Jia Biangou (夹边沟记事) and Stories of Dingxi Orphanage (定西孤儿院纪事) .
Everybody is Sick
[My Books & My World]
Page 43-45
By Shi Hui(石恢)
Original Text
Everybody is Sick大家都有病
By Zhu Deyong (朱德庸)
Modern Press, May 2011
Everybody is Sick is the latest book by Zhu Deyong (朱德庸), a famous cartoonist from Taiwan - his name is usually written as Chu Teh-yung in the English-language Taiwanese press. The books attempts to lay bare the “mental diseases” like hypocrisy, selfishness and arrogance that afflict city dwellers.
Zhu’s book is very similar to the approach taken by German sociologist Georg Simmel in his 1903 essay The Metropolis and Mental Life - you can read the full text of Simmel's essay here.  
Simmel said that the psychological basis of the metropolitan type of individuality consists in the intensification of nervous stimulation which results from the swift and uninterrupted change of outer and inner stimuli.  

This is pretty much the same concept as Zhu's illustrations that carry the message that “everybody is moving too fast”
Various “mental illnesses” have become a common phenomenon today. With unique insight and exaggerating expression, the author caricatures the strange behavior of city dwellers. However, behind the sarcasm, we can still feel the author's affection for humanity.  
In Everybody is Sick, Zhu comments upon people's obsessions with their jobs, money and fashion. 

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