In the run up to the London Book Fair focused on Chinese literature, the Guardian is publishing a great series of short fiction works from some of the best authors in China (there are a few works left to be published). Unlike the book fair, which moved to avoid offending their guests from the Chinese gov’t by not inviting any of China’s writers in exile or remaining dissidents (One of these guests is Liu Yandong), this set of works doesn’t worry about hurting the feelings of officials who might wish to show China in a more flattering light.
The stories published so far play with some of the expected themes like the rural/urban divide and the challenges of modernity. They also explore some surprisingly dark themes like cruelty, humiliation and the loss of dignity. These authors provide an important alternative to the narrative of modern China portrayed in state media.
A well connected lawyer and farmer get into a traffic accident in which the farmer is badly injured. The story focuses on how the incident is resolved in a way that may not show the strict rule of law China has been speaking of lately. Like most of Murong Xuecun’s writings (like his essay “Caging a Monster” and novel “Leave Me Alone“), this simple tale exposes the darkness hidden in daily life.
A surreal story that blends rural spats, migrant workers and Spring Festival into a very dark tale. What starts with a squabble over a missing chicken quickly becomes a matter of life and death. This is the longest piece in the series so far, but gives a very interesting glimpse of relationships in the countryside.
This story captures a poor old man’s day in a village where everyone knows his sad life story. Old Man Xinjiang, who earned the name when he fled pressed service in Xinjiang and walked all the way back home, has a different view of life and value. Xue Mo beautifully captures simple interactions with a story that would resonate with many who survived the early Mao period.
Xu’s piece is set in rural Jiangsu province where he grew up. The story is ostensibly about two youth stuck doing chores for their families who envy another pair of children who are free to race their horses along the road. Much bigger themes though are toyed with throughout the piece, and it reminded me of the stories many of my students had told me in Guangxi.