Zhou Wenbin*·


Quite a few noteworthy women writers are actively engaged in the literary creations of modern and contemporary China. They have been writing shoulder to shoulder with their male counterparts and being endowed with unique gifts and elegantly fine sense and sensibility they have enriched the treasure house of arts and literature of China.

Of the many novels created by women novelists in modern and contemporary China, quite a large number describe women and their lives. Women's works are naturally distinguished by their innate sensitivity and subtleties, sincere sentiments, thorough observations and intricately refined details about life and humanity. Therefore, the female images that they have created in their novels, as well as their literary styles, are distinct from those of male writers.


Since the Wusi Yundong· (May Fourth Movement) of 1919, many writers made painstaking efforts to describe the anguish and miseries of women. Women writers in particular were more concerned about the subject of women's destiny, the depiction of which as the oppressed, the enslaved, the humiliated and the ill-treated, constitutes one of the most important themes of the thematic fiction that focuses on women in China. During the period of the May 4th Movement, Bing Xin· and Lu Yin· were the leading writers of the socalled wenti xiaoshuo· ('problem-novels'). In response to the call for anti-feudalism, they made cool careful observations of the society in which they lived, thoroughly exploring the meaning of life and they were among the first group of writers to present women's problems for discussion.

BING XIN (°1900), pseudonym Xie Wanying,· studied in a Catholic school and then enrolled in a pre-university programme at Xiehe Nüzi Daxue· (Xie He Women's College) in Beijing. · She began to publish her writings in 1919 and soon became well known for her essays, poems and children's literature. However, her literary career started seriously with 'problem-novels'.

The surging patriotic May 4th Movement and new ideas had such an irresistible impact on Bing Xin that it took her out of her home into society. It was at this moment, with eagerness and passion, that she saw through the horde of problems of a semi-feudal, semicolonial society and exposed them in her novels. Her early 'problem-novels' were mostly themed on the life of intellectuals. Her maiden works, Liangge jiating· (Two Families) and Gu guo· (Emigration), which were published in 1919, touched on the prospects of Chinese students who had returned from studying abroad. The novel, Two Families, while presenting family problems by means of contrasts and comparisons, brought to light the necessity of reforming the old patriarchal family and establishing a new life through the personality of the heroine, Ya Qian,· who fought passionately against the evils of the old family order.

Deep concern for the harsh fate and sufferings of working-class women is another important theme for Bing Xin's fiction. The novel, Qiufeng qiuyu chousharen· (Distressing Wind and Rain of Autumn), tells the tragic story of Yun Ying, · an aspiring talented girl whose life was ruined by a feudal arranged marriage. Zuihou de anxi· (The Ultimate Rest in Peace) describes how a cruel motherin-law beat her son's fourteen year old 'child-wife', named Cui'er, · to death, in cold blood. Both novels give expression to the dark social realities of mental and physical abuses inflicted upon women by vulgar conventions, old-fashioned ideas and feudal customs, thus echoing the anti-feudal slogan of the May 4th movement.

Bing Xin's novels, imbued with humanitarianism, are said to be "[...] dipped in tender gentleness, with a touch of melancholy." After 1921, she switched back to the theme of 'love'. She used her pen, which "[...]was dipped in the ink of tender gentleness [...]," to describe women devastated by forced marriages and feudalistic families, children badly abused by various evils and intellectuals frustrated by the "[...] misfortune of the times [...]," and to express her sorrows and sympathy. However, Bing Xin's philosophy of love, in reality, could only offer consolation but not solution. She was fighting within herself, plunging herself into more anxieties, worries and despair that tinged her works with a touch of melancholy.

LU YIN is another leading protagonist of the 'Problem-novel'. The short story entitled Linghun keyi maimo· (Can the Soul be Sold?), which she wrote in her early years, describes the tragic death of a miserable girl, and exposes the cruelties of capitalist exploitation.

Modem Chinese literature themed on women not only tells the hardships and sufferings of women, but also, more importantly, depicts women's painstaking search for and pursuit of emancipation. Here we see the awakening of the people, the researching of the disillusioned and the struggle of the revolutionaries. Female characters representing all these groups reappear in modem Chinese novels.

How did the new generation of women carry on this painful search and research after the May 4th Movement? Lu Yin and Ding Ling· give full and vivid expression to this topic in their novels. Lu Yin's works, sad and sentimental, mostly focus on the frustrations and sense of failure on the part of young intellectuals after the May 4th Movement. Her representative novel, Haibin guren· (Old Friends on the Beach), featuring the heroine, Lu Sha,· describes in succession five bewildered young women going astray in complicated situations. They are the awakened, and yet they are also the disillusioned. They try to search for the meaning of life through their disillusions. The whole story is full of sad sentiment.


The period from 1927 to 1937 is often called 'The Second Decade', or 'Zuoyi shinian'· ('The Left-wingers') Decade', or 'Zuolian shiqi'· ('The Decade of the Left-wingers' Alliance'), in the history of modem Chinese literature. During this decade Chinese novels thrived in an unprecedented way. 1927 was a bad year for the revolution and the country was in turmoil, rendering the already disaster-ridden and poverty-stricken land of China more and more intolerable. History posed a new demand on modem Chinese novelists: to unswervingly expose the cruel realities of society, to rouse the great masses of the people to a new awakening and thus to bring about another upsurge of the revolution.

Propelled by the revolutionary tempest of the epoch, Lu Yin began to change ideologically. Though both her novels, Fengqi xuenüe· (Bullied by Storm and Snow) and Manli· (Manli), write about the illusions and disillusions of young women in times of great revolutions, the two principal characters ended up very differently. In Bullied by Storm and Snow, the heroine, Mei Hen,· abandoned by her husband, experienced the despair of darkness and also hesitated at the crossroads. But she did not reconcile herself to fate. She was determined to "[...] recreate her own fate [...]" and search for new prospects. The heroine in Manli, however, was far more simple and naive. Manli believed that China was like a wild sleepy desert and we should just work hard to cultivate it and turn it into a fertile land of plenty where rich green grass would feed flocks and flocks of sheep. Bitterly disillusioned at the scenes of revolution, the two revolutionary women adopted very different attitudes: Mei Hen, in face of disappointing realities, remained unreconciled and positive, whereas Manli succumbed to insomnia and ended up in hospital. Steeled by the tempest, Lu Yin put both love and revolution into her novels and in this way she made a brave "[...] second new turning [... after emerging from...] a tormented, hesitating, anxious and passionate appeal [...],"1 thus winning fresh admiration and prestige from her readers.

Another remarkable feature of the works by women writers of this period is their common effort to unfold a picture of human life splashed with tragic colours, laying bare the deep wounds hidden in the hearts of various characters, and depicting their complicated mental and spiritual worlds. Though Ding Ling's novels are well known for their detailed descriptions of the agony and bewilderment of educated women, she put more emphasis on the portrayal of the inner worlds of her characters than Lu Yin.

DING LING (°1904), pseudonym of Jiang Bingzhi,· was born in a declining bureaucrat-landlord family in Fengxian,· Hunan· province. Influenced by the ideas of the May 4th Movement, she entered, in the spring of 1922, the Pingmin Nuxiao· (Ping Min Girls' School) in Shanghai,· which was founded by Chen Duxiu,· Li Da· and others. The following year found her studying at the Chinese Department, Shanghai Daxue· (Shanghai University). In 1924, she went to Beijing and studied on her own. Starting from the autumn of 1927, she began to write under the penname of Ding Ling. She gave great stress to the depiction of the ideas, feelings and wills of her characters. Her writings are lyrical and emotional, and flow with ease and subtlety. She was especially good at psychological, narrative and scenic descriptions, in meticulous detail. The turn of 1927 and 1928 alone saw two of Ding Ling's works published in "Xiaoshuo Yuebao"· ("Monthly Review of Novels"): one was Mengke· (Mengke) and the other is Shafei nushi de riji· (Ms. Shafei's Diaries). Mengke tells the story of a young woman coming from a declining landlord-bureaucrat family, and reveals her perceptions and personality when she comes into contact with the new idealogy of the May 4th Movement and the capitalist life in Shanghai.

Ms. Shafei's Diaries portrays a young woman rebelling against old rites and rituals and her desperate cries for individualism when she feels spiritually encumbered with the anguish of the times. These novels reflect the dreams and frustrations of the young women of the petty bourgeois class, arousing the interest of many readers.

Ms. Shafei's Diaries, which was published in February, 1928, was representative of Ding Ling's early works. Shafei· was a petty-bourgeois female rebel awakened by the May 4th Movement spirit, a young woman groping in the dark for light and individual emancipation. Indeed, after the failure of the great revolution, many petty-bourgeois intellectuals who had fought for the liberation of individuality yielded to agony and despair. And Shafei was one of them. Discontented with her family, the realities and the society, she was anxious that people would really 'understand' her. She longed for genuine friendship, aspiring for a relationship with the opposite sex based on common spiritual and sensual ideals. Through diaries and private monologues, the novel reveals Shafei's aspirations for individual emancipation, and her own frustrations in the wake of the failure of the great revolution.

Actually, honest and kind Wei Di· was seriously in love with her. But as an out-and out mediocrity, he failed to understand Shafei. On the other hand, a playboy from overseas, by the name of Ling Jie,· who was elegant and handsome, aroused Shafei's " [...] dream of beauty [...]" and admiration. But later she discovered that "[...] inside such an elegant tall stature is placed such a mean vulgar soul [...]." The real world was so ugly, and the people around her were so superficial and hypocritical! Shafei realized that"[...] this society would never allow me to get what I want to indulge in my impulse, and to satisfy my desire [...]." Without real happiness and love, she found herself struggling between the extremes of ideals and realities, senses and sensibilities, in the depth of her heart and soul, thus sinking deeper and deeper into the abyss of conflicts, sorrows and sufferings, even wishing that she would "[...] live on quietly and pass away quietly [...]."

Shafei was a personage typical of her era, just as the well-renowned writer, Mao Dun, · has rightly pointed out that the complexity of Sha Fei's personality rendered her "[...] representative of the young women emancipated in the wake of the May 4th Movement in their self-contradictory attitude towards sexual love."2

From the literary persona of Shafei, we can see that sometimes she was clear-minded and firm, and sometimes she was weak and hesitant. When she was fighting against feudal rites and customs, she easily found the right weapons for individual emancipation, liberty and equality from widely spread bourgeois ideas. But once she encountered adversity and setback, she simply collapsed and could not pull herself together in her conflicts between the spiritual and the sensual, between love and hatred. Indeed, her loneliness and despair reflected the stark reality of the age in which she lived. Boldly baring the inner world of Shafei, the novel vividly records her tortuous complicated struggle within herself, retraces the route of a painful history and reveals the injuries done to that age, all tearing at the heartstrings of many a young reader.

Indeed, the persona of Shafei is a mirror of history. She could help those petty-bourgeois intellectual women see more clearly the dark 'dye-vat'like society in their eager searching for a correct way of life. Therefore, this work occupies a significant position in the history of modern Chinese literature.

In the meantime, Bing Xin, having shaken off her 'touch of melancholy', also underwent transformation in her works. In 1931, she published her novel Fen· (Divided), which projected two different families destined for different futures, through a dialogue between two new-born babies. It marked a new phase in Bing Xin's writing career.

LUO SHU· (°1903-†1938), pseudonym of Luo Shimi,· died of puerperal fever in her mid Thirties. She was inspired by the new ideas of the May 4th Movement while studying at the Nüzi Shifan Xueyuan· (Teachers' College for Women) in Chengdu, · and became an anti-feudal young fighter. With her literary creations, she successfully presented the poor rural life of her times and the miseries and hardships of the peasants. Her first story, Shengrenqi· (Born to be a Wife), which was published in "Wenxue Jikan"· ("Literary Quarterly") in 1936, was thematically similar to Rou Shi's· Wei nuli de muqing· (Mother as a Slave). While Rou Shi wrote about the ugly practice of 'pawning the wife', Luo Shu told the tragedy of 'selling the wife'. Both stories straightforwardly described the appalling fate and sufferings of rural women and revealed the social causes for these tragedies.

Born to be a Wife, tells the story of a young couple living in the hills by Tuojiang· (River Tuo), in the west of Sichuan· province. They barely eked out a meagre existence by cutting and selling grass. Coming to the end of his tether, the husband, quiet and honest, wanted to find a way out for his wife. The only way was to sell her to a rich family. However, the very night she was sold, "the woman selling grass" could not put up with the abuses of her new 'husband' and his brother's insults, and fled from that family and ran all the way back to her old home. However, she managed to reach her old home at dawn, only to find that her husband had been taken away because of her escape. This story, soaked with tears and blood, truthfully bears out the appalling ordeals of working women in old China.

"The woman selling grass", though struggling in the abyss of misery and distress, was a brave stoic and a more progressive character than Chun Bao's· mother in Mother as a Slave, a slavish backward woman who meekly submitted to maltreatment and oppression and always stooped to compromise. The message that Born to be a Wife conveys is more positive and profound than that of Mother as a Slave. It deserves a special mention that artistically Luo Shu's individuality and talents were given full play in her creations, through which she unveiled the beauty of human nature of Chinese peasants.


The literary circles used to call the twelve-year period 1937-1949 'The Third Decade' in development of new Chinese literature. The political situation of China in this period was extremely complicated. The country was divided into Guomindang·-ruled regions, guerrilla base areas resisting Japanese aggressors, liberated zones, 'isolated islands' like Shanghai and Japanese-occupied areas. Literary developments in various regions and areas were disparate, giving rise to a multitude of historical characteristics and artistic features. Nevertheless, during the eight-year War of Resistance Against Japan (1937-1945), most literary works aimed at the liberation of the nation and lterature and art made more or less progress all over the country.

DING LING was arrested and thrown into prison on 14th May 1933 and was set free in 1936. Later, she travelled to Shanghai, Beijing, Xi'an, · and other cities. During her stay in Yan An,· she wrote Leiyan mohu zhong de xinnian·(Conviction in the Eyes Blurred with Tears), Xinde xinnian· (New Conviction), Wozai Xiacun de shihou· (When I was in Xiacun), Zai Yiyuanzhong· (In Hospital), and a few more, in which she exposed the atrocities of the aggressors, expressed the common demand of the Chinese people for resistance against the invaders, as well as gave detailed descriptions of the life of young female intellectuals in the new world and their ideological transformations. Both Conviction in the Eyes Blurred with Tears and When I was in Xiacun wrote about women ravaged by Japanese invaders. The former told the story of an elderly woman, Chen.· Not only was she herself raped by a brutal Japanese aggressor, she also witnesses other fellow compatriots being raped. Outraged by the appalling atrocity, she crept back to the village and told the villagers about the inhuman and savage brutalities of the invaders, aroused their hatred and compelled them to fight against their sworn enemies. Thus they built up "[...] a new conviction [...]." The latter recounted the tragic story of a poor girl called Zhen Zhen· in an isolated village. She fell into the hands of Japanese aggressors and was despised, mocked at and discriminated against by the villagers. In those painful days, she managed to live on, sending messages to guerrillas who were fighting against the Japanese. Though feudal ideas died hard, new life, new people had already sprung up. Finally, she was sent to Yan An for medical treatment. Here Ding Ling put forward a "[...] most extensive social problem [...],"3 that is, what attitude should be adopted towards those ravaged, humiliated women?

Another novel of Ding Ling's, In Hospital, wrote about a young woman, Lu Ping, · who had come to Yan An from Shanghai. It described her reactions to working in a newly-established hospital, and her misfortune. Young, vigorous and enthusiastic, she worked methodically and conscientiously. However, owing to the traditional force of petty producers, she attracted a lot of criticism, jealosy and endless malicious gossip. Unavoidably, Lu Ping ran into conflicts with other people. The novel depicted the sharp conflicts between the traditional force of the petty producers and modern science and technology. Towards the end, the author closed the novel with this philosophical message: "New life has already begun, but there are new brambles and thorns. One becomes really competent only after one has been steeled through thousands of hard tests. One grows up by experiencing hardships and by overcoming obstacles."

The decline of once wealthy and influential families constitutes an important theme in the history of modern Chinese literature. During the War of Resistance Against Japan, works focusing on this theme were mostly written by (Shanghai authors. Early authors of the Shangai xuexiao·(Shanghai School), when describing the social life of the new generation of men and women in Shanghai, observed their anti-family tendency that took them away from their homes. However, in the Forties, the opposite trend, that is, going back home, was observed by Zhang Ailing,· another woman writer of the Shanghai literary circle. At that time, Zhang Ailing, together with Feng Heyi· (pseudonym Su Qing)· and Zhou Lianxi·, was already a famous woman writer.

ZHANG AILING (°1921) was born in Shanghai and studied at the Xianggang Daxue· (University of Hong Kong) up to Year-3, when the Pacific War broke out. She returned to Shanghai in 1942 and began her writing career. She paid serious attention to insignificant beings in times of great upheavals and was particularly keen on minute descriptions of trivial matters, small-mindedness, little activities and even little annoyances and troubles of ordinary people. But on the other hand, as she had gone through the bitter experience of witnessing the fall of her rich and powerful family and of a broken country, and as she constantly felt the imminent doom of the existing civilization, there was a touch of desolation and pessimism in Zhang Ailing's novels.

It was during the period 1943-1945, of Japanese occupation of"[...] the isolated island [...]" that Zhang Ailing rose rapidly in the literary forum of Shanghai. The year 1945 saw the publication of her collection of stories entitled Chuan qi· (Legendary Figures). On the title page, she wrote: "The book is so named in order to look for ordinary people from amongst these legendary figures, and to search for legendary figures from amongst these ordinary people." By "legendary" figures, she refers to the anachronism, i. e., the placing of these characters in the wrong historical period and the resulting absurdities. Obviously, she intended to write about the "ordinary people" through these absurd stories, and, at the same time, to search for stunning absurdities in the life of the "ordinary people".

Zhang Ailing's novels deal with life from the perspective of love and marriage, just as she once said: "The majority of people of our times are tired, and our marriage system is unjust. So there exist silent voiceless matrimonial relations, irresponsible high-class flirtings, animal-like whorings. But, you see, they are only animal-like, they are not animals, they are still human beings. So they are more disgusting than beasts."4 So mean and vulgar sexual relations and marriages abound in her novels. The author tried to depict the social life of the then metropolises of Shanghai and Hong Kong.

Jinsuo ji· (The Legend of the Gold Fetters) is the key story of Zhang Ailing's Legendary Figures. It narrates the story of Cao Qiqiao, · the daughter of a humble shop-owner selling sesame oil, married into a very rich family. Yet, locked inside the great house of the Jiang· family, she was accompanied, day and night, by her sick crippled husband. In order to survive, she was "[...] chained in gold fetters [...]," burying alive her youth, her sexual desires and her hopes. Full of grievances and hatred, and with her mentality twisted and her personality distorted, she became abnormally cruel, revenged herself on her young brothers-in-law and abused her own children.

Another story, Qing cheng zhi lian· (Love in a Fallen City) tells about the transient love affair between a twenty eight-year-old divorced woman and the thirty two-year-old son of a wealthy overseas Chinese merchant at the outbreak of the Pacific War. The central female figure, Bai Liushu,· who was from a humble, rather old-fashioned family, tried to get the playboy, Fan Liuyuan,· and marry him by means of 'offering her body'. She did not give up even when Fan saw through her plan, accusing her of regarding marriage as life-long prostitution. Such a dubious relationship, now in the turmoil and chaos of War, made them more dependent on each other. Eventually, they became husband and wife. But what a marriage it was, when there was not a single hymn of rejoicing but chilly gloom surrounding them!

These two stories from Zhang Ailing's Legendary Figures reveal to us that wealth and money dominate and frustrate love and marriage. In a society ruled by the power of money, the characters' inner world is empty, desolate and decadent.Through her literary creations, Zhang Ailing not only gives a display of the sad separations and happy reunions of men and women of Shanghai and Xianggang· (Hong Kong) of the past century, but also relates them to the existing realities; she not only describes the everyday human life of the metropolis, but also tells the legendary stories of ordinary people. What she offers to her readers is a sad message, a soft sigh. However, after all, Zhang only noticed a certain part of life. The spectacular national War of Resistance Against Japan, the whole panorama of the epoch, solemn and stirring, hardly finds expression in her writings.

Meanwhile, in Harbin, in 1929, XIAO HONG· was reading widely while studying in Diyi Nüzi Zhongxue· (No. 1 Secondary School for Girls) and took to writing herself. Towards the end of 1935 she completed her novel, Shengsi chang· (Life and Death Struggle), one of the earliest works reflecting the life and struggle of the people in northeast China under the rule of the Japanese imperialists. It was a colourful display of a genre painting of the northeast China countryside, with a little primitive touch. It presented a collective image of rural women and their struggle under the control of the patriarchal clan system.

The publication of Life and Death Struggle caused a great stir in the literary circles of the epoch, demonstrating Xiao Hong's creative gifts and laying a solid foundation for her literary career. This novel was included in Null congshu· (The Slaves Series) edited by Lu Xun,· who personally wrote in the Preface for Life and Death Struggle: "The unbending faith to life of the stoic northerners and their unyielding struggles, having already penetrated the back of the paper, were profoundly and succinctly brought to life by the authoress, with her sharp observing eyes and refreshingly bold strokes. It is brilliant and spiritually wholesome [...]."

Xiao Hong came to Hong Kong in 1940 and finished writing Hulanhe zhuan· (Life on the Hulan River) in the same year. In December, 1941, the Japanese invaders took Hong Kong. Xiao Hong's health deteriorated amidst the Warridden chaos and died in Hong Kong the following year.

Life on the Hulan River, to which Xiao Hong had devoted most of her time and energy, is representative of her literary creations, viewed from the perspective of her personal perceptions of life, and of her artistic pursuit of individuality. The work is like a kaleidoscopic genre painting, in which the writer, recalling her own childhood life, and in lyric prose, portrays the customs and folkways of the life on the Hulanhe· (Hulan River) in the 1920's. At the same time, it is also a tragic swansong. The writer projects the past recollections of the small town onto the pair of eyes of a little girl, and then onto her picture, truthfully presenting the old, stagnant, and backward life and social customs of the 1920's. And all the characters in the novel "[...] are willing slaves and pathetic complaining wretches [...]." For example, though Xiao Tuanyuan's· wife had rebelled against the old feudal custom of being a 'child-wife', she obediently let her mother-in-law torture her to death in an extremely cruel superstitious ritual. Here the writer lets out a heart-rending cry, creating a gloomy atmosphere that enshrouded the refreshing vigour of her earlier rebellion. Xiao Hong ended her story on a sad note most probably because she herself was trapped in a desperate plight in Hong Kong, having suffered one blow after another in her love life, and felt sad and bitterly depressed.

In 1945, the Japanese imperialists declared unconditional surrender and the Second World War came to an end. There were rejoicings among the Chinese people, who had had enough of the ravages of the War. Most literary works during this period described the War of Resistance Against Japan, usually with breathtaking plots, thrilling scenes and astounding feats of the heroes and heroines, life-like and substantial, thus attracting many many young readers.

A typical example is Xing ernü yingxiong zhuan· (New Heroes and Heroines), co-authored by woman writer YUAN JING· and her husband, KONG JUE.· Set against the background of Baiyangdian (Baiyang Lake) in the middle of Hebei· province, following the romantic thread of Niu Dashui· and Yang Xiaomei, · their partings and reunions, and in the style of the traditional Chinese novel with each chapter headed by a couplet giving the gist of its content, the novel recounts the history of the eight-year struggles in the enemy's rear areas. Yang Xiaomei, the principal famale character, ran away from Baoding· and took refuge in her brother-in-law, Hei Laocai's· home in Shenjiazhuang.· She had led a very wretched life and now her mother forced her to marry a local ruffian, Zhang Jinlong,· who worked as a guard for the traitor He Shixiong· and made her live in hell. However, in their heroic struggles against their enemies, she fell in love with Niu Dashui,· a brave unyielding anti-Japanese fighter. It was through the characters of Hei Laocai, Niu Dashui and Yang Xiaomei, the authors created a collective heroic image of new sons and daughters of the Chinese nation, and a great moving epic of the War of Resistance Against Japan launched by the Chinese people. And the eventual happy reunion of Niu Dashui and Yang Xiaomei enhanced this theme.


After the victory of the Jiefang Zhangzheng· (Liberation War) and the founding of New China,· the country began reconstruction. So in the Fifties, with peace and stability restored and many favourable conditions provided by the government and the society, writers could afford to concentrate on their literary creations. The greatest achievement of this period was the creation of a number of novels depicting the Revolutionary War and rural life.

In the early Fifties several novels describing rural life were themed on family and marriage, such as ZHAO SHULI's· Deng ji· (Registered to be Married), MA FENG's· Jiehun· (To Marry) and Yijia tanhuaji·(A Cotton Fluffing Machine), GU YU's· Xinshi xinban· (New Problems, New Solutions) and Qiangniu de gua butian· (A Forced Marriage Won't Be Happy), WANG ANYOU's· Li'ersao gaijia· (Li'ersao Remarried), GAO XIAOSHENG's· Jieyue· (The Engagement is Broken Off), and so many others. Some told the opposition to the feudal matrimonial system; some vowed to completely break with the old ugly customs and ideas of feudalism; some advocated new ideas, new ethics and new customs. These works were all written by male writers. It is true that in the years following the liberation, there were not many novels describing love and family life. Even if the works touched on this subject-matter, the writers had to abide by the principle of 'literature and art serving politics', rendering love subsidiary to politics.

However, after the release of the principle of 'letting a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools of thought contend', and the advocation of 'involving life', the political element was less stressed, and the tendency of using novels to propogate political doctrines was weakened. There appeared a number of short stories and features trying to break into some 'forbidden zones' of literary creations. Of these, two types stood out: one focussing on the subject of love and the other criticizing the red-tape — the bureaucratic ways of doing things. Of those depicting love, ZONG PU's· Hong dou· (The Red Beans) had a very strong artistic appeal.

ZONGPU (°1928), pseudonym of Feng Zongpu, · was born in an intellectual family in Beijing. She graduated from the Waiwenxi· (Foreign Languages Department) of Qinghua Daxue· (Qinghua University) in 1951 and began to publish her works in the same year. Though she had also experienced the chaos and turmoil of that period, she cherished an earnest desire to explore the twists and turns of life. Her literary activities were guided by two words: 'sincerity' and 'elegance', which served as her guiding principle in writing, and which can also serve as a highly condenced summary of her thirty-odd years of a dedicated literary career. The publication of The Red Beans in 1957 shot her to fame. Set against the background of students' movement in pre-Liberation Beijing, it describes the life-and-death struggle of the progressive forces against the reactionary power, as well as the tragic love story of Jiang Mei· and Qi Hong.· Their love was sincere and yet painful, with fundamental differences between them, in both political stands and philosophy of life. It depicted the complexity and implicity of its heroine, Jiang Mei, who was caught in a dilemma between sense and sensibility, between politics and love, revealing the cause for the inevitable split of the two lovers.

Indeed, compelled by artistic sincerity and honesty, Zong Pu penetrated into the inner world of her characters and successfully brought out, in refined detail, the typical personality, taste, temperament, and way of life, of the intelligentsia. However, Zong Pu was unfairly criticized for this novel in the extended anti-rightist campaign of 1957.

YANG MO. (°1914), pseudonym of Yang Chengye,· was born in Beijing. During the War of Resistance Against Japan and the Liberation War, she was mainly engaged in work relating to women and propaganda work. Starting her literary career in 1934, she wrote many novels exposing the towering crimes of the Japanese aggressors. The publication, in 1958, of her long novel Qingchun zhi ge· (The Song of Youth) was a breakthrough that altered the situation of this genre monopoly by male writers. The Song of Youth was made into a film the following year. Translated into many languages, the novel was a smash hit with readers both at home and abroad.

Indeed, The Song of Youth is an important literary achievement in the creation of long novels in the history of contemporary Chinese literature. Running into four hundred and forty three thousand Chinese characters, it covers the history starting from the Jiuyiba Shibian· (September 18th Incident) of 1931 all the way to the Yierjiu Yngdong· (December 9th Movement) of 1935, and describes, in vivid detail, the aspirations and frustrations of a group of young intellectuals in the Thirties, their awakenings and disintegration, their progress and regress, and the diverging paths that they followed. It presents a panoramic display of the society in which they lived. The theme of the novel was brought out mainly through the growth and maturing of a young famale intellectual, Lin Daojing.· Again, in vivid refined detail, the novel recounts how Lin Daojing freed herself from a feudal family and pursued individual emancipation, and then how she gave up her own pursuit for individuality and became tempered amidst revolutionary struggles.

Lin Dajing lost her mother when she was still a child and suffered a lot from a feudal family. However, compared with the characters like Zi Jun· and Sha Fei· of the May 4th Movement period, she had brighter and more progressive prospects. And, of course, it was also more painful for her to make a clean ideological break. The meticulous descriptions of Lin Daojing falling in love with Yu Yongze,· their living together and their separation, vividly and profoundly reflect the process of change of her emotional world. When, out of despair, she jumped into the Beidai River and was rescued by Yu Yongze, she naturally became infatuated with this loving and talented youth. Undoubtedly, Yu was her 'Prince Charming', and she willingly fell into his arms. She became his loving and obedient wife keeping a warm little house. It can be said that the early days of their cohabitation were quite happy.

However, as days passed by, and also influenced by what was happening outside, ideological barriers and differences of personality began to emerge between them. Lin Daojing came to realize that Yu regarded her as "[...] something to be protected [... in his arms, and a...] beautiful vase." She found, to her disappointment, that the 'gallant knight' as she had known him before turned out to be selfish, mediocre, mean and vulgar. As the gap between them became wider and wider, the two drifted further and further apart until Lin made up her mind to make a clean break with Yu, ridding herself of "[...] weakness and lingerings of love [...],"5 throwing herself into the storms and tempests of the outside world. Of course, her participation in the revolution was tinged with petty-bourgeois remance and it was a long painful process for her to become a steeled revolutionary. Indeed, the image of Lin Daojing distinguished herself from other progressive female characters in the new literature of post-May 4th Movement period by her aesthetic and cognitive values.

There are quite a few women writers in the camp of short stories depicting the Geming Zhanzheng· (Revolutionary Wars). Ru Zhijuan's· Baihehuar· (The Lilies), in particular, sent a breath of fresh air into the contemporary literary circle, with its unique artistic style, free from the stereotypes of formulism or generalization.

RU ZHIJUAN (°1925), native of Hangzhou, · Zhejiang· province, was born in Shanghai. She used to work with an art troupe in the army and began publish her books in 1950. In the Fifties she treated life with a smile and gentle optimism. She described the most common people in various corners of the society and their sincere and warm relations. She gave expression to the beauty and virtue of the great masses of the people. Even if her works were themed on war, she did not create heroes directly steeled in fire and blood: her heroic images developed naturally through little episodes or certain aspects of life.

The Lilies marked a milestone in Ru Zhijuan's literary career. It successfully created the heroic image of a young army messenger and a young village woman, 'the new bride'. She was beautiful, gentle and good-hearted. The only dowry that she brought with her was a cotton quilt with a lily-patterned cover. Needless to say, it was her most valued belonging. Her personality stood out through two contrasts: at first she was reluctant to lend her lily quilt to the army; but when she learned about their difficulties, she willingly lent it to them; and finally she even personally covered it on the dead body of the young messenger at his funeral. The second example showed that at first she was rather shy when she was taking care of wounded soldiers; but later she even tried the clothes on for the dead messenger and mended the hole in his coat. The novel, through the changing attidudes of 'the new bride', convincingly created a beautiful soul, as beautiful and as pure as the lilies. In addition to 'the new bride' in The Lilies, Ru Zhijuan also created such characters as Shou Lizi· in Sanzou Yanzhuang· (Three Visits to Yan Village), Jing Lan· in Chunnuan shijie· (Warm Spring), Tan shenshen· (Aunty Tan) in Jinjingde chanyuan· (A Quiet Maternity Hospital), and others. Through these characters, their sentiments and feelings, the throbbings of their hearts, and the little ripplings in their inner world, the writer unfolded the panorama of a great epoch, reflecting the feminine subtleness and beauty unique to woman writers.

By the late Fifties and early Sixties, Ru Zhijuan had already developed an artistic style of her own, which was summarized by the literary critic, Hou Jinjing, · as "[...] amiably mild, beautiful and refined [...]," and which was highly spoken of by the eminent author, Mao Dun, · as "[...] fresh and elegant [...]." However, in spite of the warm applause from famous authors, and in spite of the popularity that she enjoyed among the readers, she was repudiated by certain people to such an extent that she felt quite at a loss and did not know what to do. Later, during the Wenghua Dagemin· (Great Cultural Revolution) she was so persecuted that she stopped writing altogether, until the New Era, · when she was able to pick up her pen again, coolly reflecting on a lost past.


In the new era, many new faces have appeared on the literary scene of China. Quite a few of them are woman writers, who have caught a lot of attention. After the fall of the Sirenbang· (Gang of Four), writers have freed themselves from fetters of 'leftist' ideas and old conventions and have broken through the artificial, man-made 'prohibited areas'. In lively and vibrant styles, they extol and write on this age-old, ever-lasting subject: love. And the most note-worthy of these works is Zhang Jie's· Ai, shi buneng wangji de· (Love is Unforgettable).

ZHANG JIE (°1937), was born in Beijing and graduated from the Zhongguo Renmin Daxue· (People's University of China) in 1960. She had had several jobs before she started writing in 1979. Her publications include a collection of short stories and features entitled Love is Unforgettable, Fangzhou· (The Ark), a collection of medium-length stories entitled Zumu lu· (Grandmothers), a long novel Chenzhong de chiban· (Heavy Wings), a selection of essays Zai na lücaodi shang· (On the Green Glassland) as well as Zhang Jie xiaoshuo, jubenxuan· (Selected Stories and Plays by Zhangjie). She is the winner of a series of awards, such as Quanguo youxiu zhongpian xiaoshuo jiang· (National Award for the Best Short Story), (Quanguo youxiu zhongbian xiaoshuo jiang· (National Award for the Best Medium-Length Novel), Mao Dun wenxue jiang· (Mao Dun Literature Award) and many others.

Love is Unforgettable is an inextricably sentimental and commiserative love story of a middle-aged woman, which was revealed through her daughter's wedding. The mother, Zhong Yu,· was a writer, who had been deeply in love with an elderly cadre. The love is passionate, painful and touching. Unfortunately, the cadre had a wife. Though their marriage was build on sense of morality and gratitute without love, they had lived together in harmony for several decades. So, in order to obey the moral codes, Zhong Yu had to bury her love in her heart, lingering, longing, regretting and sighing for the rest of her life and pinning hopes on "heaven" and "the next life".

This novel, which made Zhang Jie famous, described a man and a woman who had been desperately in love for all their lives and conveyed the tragic implication "[...] endless torment of lingering [...]." With very gentle pen strokes, the writer gave a thorough description of Zhong Yu's intense conflicts between her aspirations and self-restraint, her longings and evasions, her hopes and hopelessness, her happiness and sufferings. Indeed, through this unconventional extra-marital affair, Zhang Jie tried to tackle the problem of marriage, family, ethics and moralities, bringing out the solemn and profound truth of life: 'only marriage based on love is moral'. Her idea, which encroached upon the moral and ethical tradition of thousands of years, was so thought-provoking that caused quite a stir in the society, attracted the attention of both old and new schools of thought and gave rise to extensive debates.

In the early Eighties, Zhang Jie completed her first long novel, Heavy Wings, which gave timely expression to major problems, contradictions and struggles at the beginning of the Sihua jianshe· (Four Modernizations Programme). Following the success of this long novel which, as she put it: "[...] fell into step with the march of history [...]," she published her medium-length novel The Ark by the end of the same year.

The Ark describes the life and destiny of middle-aged women intellectuals in contemporay China, through the characterization of three single middle-aged intellectuals: film director Liang Qiang,· theoretician Cao Jinghua· and translatorinterpreter Liu Quan.· In sharp contrast with Zhong Yu, they are no longer 'painful idealists' in their attitude towards love and marriage, but a new generation of intellectual women striving for success and achievement in their professions and careers. However, as the saying goes, 'there is always too much gossip at the door of the widow', it is far from easy for them to fight single-handedly in the world. The novelist writes about their failed marriages and frustrations. And, in particular, she relates how people fail to understand their professional pursuits, and do not even recognize their their values and contributions. Indeed, Zhang Jie brings her characters to life, and make them "[...] glow with exceptional brilliance."6

In 1982, Zhang Jie published another medium-length novel, Qiqiaoban· (The Tangram), in which she created a different woman image in Jin Naiwen, · who is weak, yet kind, dull and rigid. Zhang Jie continued to focus on the life and destiny of middle-aged intellectual women.

While Zhang Jie is devoted to writing about love and marriage of middle-aged women, Zhang Kangkang· is concerned with young women. With history changing dramatically, social life returning to normal, and people beginning to calm down and recalling and reflecting upon history, these new writers have also set about creating 'a thinking generation', and put forward such questions as human value, the right to love, etc. And Zhang Kangkang is one of them. In Ai de quanli· (The Right to Love), Dandan de chenwu· (Thin Morning Mist), and Xia· (Summer), she has created a collection of new images drawing special attention from her readers.

ZHANG KANGKANG (°1950) was born in Hangzhou and went to work on a farm in 'Beidahuang'· ('the Wasteland of the Northeast') after she finished junior high school. It was during this period that Zhang Kangkang wrote ferociously under an oil lamp in her little straw hut, and began to publish her short stories in 1972. Her collections include The Summer, Ta· (The Tower), Zhang Kangkang zhongpian xiaoshuo ji· (Selection of Zhang Kangkang's Medium-length Stories), and a long novel Yinxing banlu· (An Invisible Companion), all of them being prize-winners.

In 1979, Zhang Kangkang completed The Right to Love, which was one of her most influential works in her early literary career. Talking about this story, she said: "For a number of reasons, the ten-year turmoil and upheaval [i. e., the Cultural Revolution] forced many people to give up, grudgingly, their hobbies, interests, wishes, ideals and a great variety of beautiful and sweet dreams. They almost forgot that they have the right to love, to love life, to love work and to love others. The conflict between the right to love and the social environment has enlightened me tremendously. Though the story does not retell my personal sufferings, it is impregnated with my perception of life: I have unbosomed myself, I have poured into it all my love aroused by the new era."7 Shu Bei,· the central female figure of the story, was initially a happy young woman who loved life, loved arts, loved other people and also needed to be loved by others. But because her parents were persecuted and disgraced, she did not dare to follow per pursuits, nor did she dare to love. Fortunately, in the new era which gave her a new life, she regained her fundamental human right.

The heroine Cen Long· in The Summer was a lively, open-minded, quick-witted and confident university student. The creation of this character was a telling blow to the then prevailing "[...] whatever [...] principles [...]," to the ideological restrictions and moral taboos born of modern political superstitions. With her freshly distinctive individuality, she dared to challenge the rigidity of life, maintaining that: "The meaning of Sige xiandaihua· (Four Modernizations) is the creation of a new life in which people will emancipate themselves from the traditional fetters of old ideas and old concepts." So she freely and openly mixed herself with her male schoolmates, singing and dancing with them, and even candidly offered them her swim-suit snapshots.

In 1981, the publication of Beijiguang· (The Northern Lights: Aurora Borealis) marked a new pioneering stage in Zhang Kangkang's creative works themed on youth. The novel, which described how the female character, Lu Qinqin,· chose her spouse, illustrates "[...] young women's pursuit of their ideal [...]," drawing very different responses from contemporary Chinese literary arena. Lu Qinqin had several boy friends, and hence, options. She compared them again and again and then made her choice. First she split up with the vulgar and snobbish Chuan Yun, · and then broke with the idle thinker, Fei Yuan· and finally she fell for her ideal Zeng Chu,· who "[...] touched her heart with his faith and confidence in life [...]," reflecting the higher spiritual demand of the heroine. Through this character, the writer tried to present the different attitudes towards life and their goals, as well as the changing values and philosophy of life of the young generation. This novel is also a breathrough in its treatment of the theme on love.

In real life, the involvement of the 'third party' in a relationship is quite a common occurrence. HANG YING's· Dongfang nüxing· (The Oriental Woman) posed such a question. Published in 1983, the novel The Oriental Woman featured Lin Qingfen,· who was"[...] imbued with the beauty of the the oriental woman." When a third party invaded her life, she gave importance to the responsibilities and obligations of marriage and abided by the moral duties of the oriental tradition. Believing that "Divorce is a bad thing after all [...]," she never considered divorcing her husband. When her "rival" was in labour, Lin Qingfen not only rushed her to hospital on her bicycle, helped both mother and baby, but also offered to adopt the child as her daughter. The novel gave emphasis to Lin Qingfen's "[...] natural spiritual beauty [... her...] tolerance [... and...] self-sacrifice [...]," giving rise to quite a lot of controversy in the society. Some held that Lin Qinfen, by being tolerant and making self-sacrifice, "[...] she did not lose any respect; on the contrary, she gained more respect."8 But others maintained that the noved "[...] stereotyped and generalized the so-called oriental tradition, thus committing the error of regressive conservatism."9

Another scenario for the development of love stories is the graphic revelation of sexual love. In the mid-Eighties some writers in the Chinese mainland were quite keen on this type of novels, which almost became a fashion for a time, causing quite a few ripples in the society. Among this selection, WANG ANYI's· San lian· (A Trilogy of Love), which includes Xiaocheng zhi lian· (Love in a Small Town), Huangshan zhi lian· (Love on a Deserted Mountain) and Jinxiugu zhi lian· (Love in a Fascinating Valley), was the most daring. The writer, with her delicate perception and expressive gift, depicted the mentality, psychology and even biological functions of sex, thus provoking some critical comments.


Generally speaking, women writers, thanks to their unique perceptions, can penetrate into the grass-root of the society, and describe, in minute detail, the inner world of her female characters, revealing the fertile and complicated emotional life of contemporary women. And Chen Rong· is one of them.

CHEN RONG (°1936), pseudonym of Chen Derong,· native of Wushan,· Sichuan· province, was born in Wushan,· Hubei· province. After graduation from Beijing Eyu Xueyuan· (Russian Language Institute of Beijing), she took several jobs as translator, editor, high school teacher, etc. She began writing in 1975, trying, as she put it: "[...] to place human tragedies and comedies in a certain historical context, search for the historical sources that decide the destinies of the characters, and thus to produce works that give a more indepth and substantial representation of history."10 The beginning of 1980 saw the publication of her novel Ren dao zhongnian· (Middle Age), which shocked the world with the destiny of its frail female character, Lu Wenting.·

Lu Wenting is a gentle and kind eye doctor. As she is not a party member, she has neither position nor power. Though she has been working as an ophthalmologist for eighteen years, she has not made a name for herself, indeed, she has not yet been promoted to the post of a principal doctor. She is so modest and low-key, further obscured by her slim and frail figure, she is hardly noticed by anyone. Yet, it is this simple unimposing figure that really represents the best personality of middle-aged intellectuals in contemporary China. By means of the anachronistic 'streams of consciousness', which often appear in Western novels, and in combination with the methods of traditional Chinese novels, the writer unfolds, amidst Lu's notions, illusions, subconsciousness and dreams while in a coma, a most touching life story of a modest woman doctor dedicating her youth and life to the medical cause of her country. At the same time, the novel also shows how the heroine nearly lost her life because of years of overwork and exhaustion, unveiling a miniature of a society which is afflicted with various ills and in which thousands of tasks remain to be undertaken.

The novel approaches this tragic character from the perspectives of the career and of the family. Lu Wenting is lying in bed, seriously ill. In her feverish daze, she seems to hear the warm gentle voice of her husband drifting to her from afar and reminding her of the sweet first date with him. As a student of a medical college, she gave all her time to endless classes, lectures, tests and examinations. She simply had no time for dating. After graduation from the medical college, she worked for four years as a resident doctor. Now she was twenty eight. It was at this moment that, Fu Jiajie,· a metallurgical engineer, came into her peaceful and monotonous life. It was the famed verse of Petofi Sandor· that breathed love into her life. Love made her feel the joy of life. Their children, Jiajia· and Yuanyuan,· innocent and lovely, brought more joy and happiness into their lives. How she loved their small, crammed but warm home.

However, for years, she had been too busy to pause a while and look back, reminiscing about the sweetness and bitterness of life. Chen Rong writes passionately in her novel: "Now, only now, in the haze of illusions and dreams, on the bank overlooking the river of death, Lu Wenting, who had devoted all her life, all her energy, to the light and happiness of her patients, could gain a little time for herself, to reflect upon the past years, the embarrassing poverty, the heavy, painful and eternal love." Indeed, the writer gives us a true portrayal of life reflecting the outstanding work and noble soul of an ordinary woman intellectual. The novel has a realistic significance: it has sounded out the urgent call to 'rescue' middle-aged intellectuals.

Another pioneering effort is the exploration and expression of 'human value' and the opening up in the concepts of contemporary women. The most outstanding writer in this category is Zhang Xinxin.· While Chen Rong's characters are obedient and conform to rules and regulations, the characters under Zhang Xinxin's pen are aggressive competitors fighting for survival in contemporary society.

ZHANG XINXIN(°1953), born in Beijing in started working at the age of fifteen and began to publish her stories in 1979. Since the Eighties she has published more than a score of medium-length novels, including Zai tongyi dipingxian shang· (On the Same Horizon), and Zuihou de junzilan· (The Last Anchorage). Her objective of writing is "[...]to get out of the haze and daze of confusion, to face up to life, and resume the quest for more practical, more constructive ideals."11

Wo zai naer cuoguo le ni· (When I was Cross With You), On the Same Horizon, The Last Anchorage and others, are a series of novels analysing the psychological world of women. They mainly describe the persevering pursuits of young women, their mental workings in response to their successes and failures. On the Same Horizon writes about women's demand to stand side by side with men "[...] on the same horizon [...]" in their social life. Two plots run parallel in the novel, thus allowing the female character to carry on a dialogue with her husband and voice her appeal for fair competition. They loved each other once. But now, in order to get his album published, he becomes unscrupulous and tries to make a profit by hook or by crook. He only cares about himself, and never shows concern for his family and wife. He has turned into a selfish cruel "[...] tiger of Bengal [...]." Meanwhile, the heroine was willing to sacrifice herself in order to support her husband. But later, compelled by the realities of life, she bravely freed herself from her 'selflessness'. She was no longer happy to be a housewife, a helper or assistant. She wanted to go to first line, the front-line, learning to struggle, to compete on her own. She studied hard and wrote painstakingly. She became a film director. She even gave up her family and eventually divorced her husband.

Here, the novel points out to us that in modem society the amiable veil of human relationship often comes off, leaving only capitalistic competition and rivalry. It is only natural that husband and wife quarrel, fight and even divorce.

While Chen Rong and and Zhang Xinxin focus their attention on contemporary society, Wang Anyi's· works retrace history, with more concern on the search for cultural origins, from a feminist point of view. "When writers relate the transformation of our current society with our national history, national spirit, and national cultural tradition, there is a tremendous upsurge of historical conscience emerging from the novels of the new era."12 Together with other writers searching for 'cultural roots', Wang Anyi made a profound exploration of the culture deep-rooted in national tradition and merged it into the scene of life in transformation.

WANG ANYI (°1954) was born in Nanjing,· Jiangsux· province, worked for a while in the countryside of Huaibei· after finishing junior high school and then with an arts troupe in Xuzhou.· In 1978 she returned to Shanghai. Her novels began to appear in 1975. Since the Eighties, her works consisting of more than sixty novels have attracted wide public attention, which include Wenwen xilie· (Wenwen Series), Sanlian· (A Trilogy of Love), Zhiqing xilie xiaoshuo· (Educated Youth in the Countryside Series), Dushihua xiaoshuo· (Urbanization), Wenhua xungen xiashuo· (An Inquiry into Cultural Roots), and two long novels entitled Liushijiu jie chuzhongsheng· (Junior Secondary School Leavers of the Year 1969) and Huanghe gudaoren· (People of the Ancient Yellow River).

Wang Anyi's creative career has been undergoing a process of maturing, from the innocent Wenwen· in Yu, sha, sha, sha· (The Pit-a-Pat of Rain), to the reflective philosophical Auyang Ruili in Liu shi· (Vanishing), indicating that she has broken through the walls of her small 'self-conceived' world of a young girl and begun to penetrate her observing eyes into various corners of the human society. The creation of Xiao baozhuang· (Little Bao Village) is a crystalization, a product of her cool and sharp observations, widely regarded as "[...] the cicada sloughing [...]" of her life experience and aesthetic awareness.

Following a net structure, Little Bao Village tells the love and marriages of several couples in a stagnant isolated village. It is situated in low land in a mountain valley almost completely cut off from the outside world. Common historical background, and common means of production, unite the Bao patriarchal clan and bond them together, with firm collective consciousness. Even during the Cultural Revolution, it remained closed, completely oblivious to what was happening around. Indeed, the Little Bao Village is "[...] really a humane benevolent village, where generations and generations have aspired for neither wealth nor power, but humanity and virtue." So, it is on this very principle of"[...] humanity and virtue" that the primitive scenario of love and marriages, births and deaths, disasters and calamities, natural and manmade, unfolds vertically and horizontally, amidst the peasant families of Bao Bingde,· Er Shen,· Xiao Cuizi· and others.

Bao Bingde's wife, beautiful and gentle, was well loved by her husband. But one still-birth after another tormented him. Though he did not divorce her, he was caught in a dilemma between "humanity and virtue" and the regret for not having children to carry on the family name. When his wife went down with mental disorder, he took very good care of her, out of "humanity and virtue". His wife, not wanting to become a burden to him, committed suicide, also out of "humanity and virtue."

The love story between Er Shen and young Feng Shilai,· reflects, from a different angle, the deep-rooted influence of Confucianist tradition. Er Shen was a middle-aged widow with four children. In general, "[...] the older generation of women were obedient creatures, just docilely accepting feudal marriages arranged by their parents and the practices of child-wife, husband divorcing wife, husband having many concubines, etc., that filled women's lives with tears and blood."13 But Er Shen was different. She "[...] chose her own husband [...]," which was a telling blow to the feudal patriarchal concepts and to the clan principle. What was more disturbing was that she had chosen to marry someone surnamed Feng, other than Bao. She had broken the tradition of marrying within the "[...] clean and pure Bao [... clan, thus causing the....] biggest scandal in the [Little] Bao Village for a hundred years." Though strongly opposed and beaten up by the people of the Bao Village, they eventually got married with the strong support of the town government.

Sadly, feudal ideas of the Confucianist tradition die hard. Not only the villagers, but also Er Shen and Feng Shilai themselves were deeply affected by such ideas. While Feng became diffident and felt inferior, Er Shen found that she was like an "[...] illegitimate wife [...]."

Like Wang Anyi, novelist Tie Ning· also went through the ten-year Cultural Revolution and worked on a farm to be 'educated by peasants'. Today she is one of the most influential and most vigorous young women writers in present-day China.

TIE NING (°1957) was born in Beijing, and she began to publish stories in 1975. In 1979 she joined the Baoding Diqu Wenlian· (Literary Association of Baoding), and demonstrated extraordinary creative talents. Since 1980 she has had a number of collections of stories published, including Yie lu· (The Way of the Night), Meiyou niukoude hongchenshan· (A Red Shirt Without Buttons), Tie Ning xiaoshuoji· (A Selection of Novels by Tie Ning), etc., many of them being award-winners.

Gifted with ingenuity, Tie Ning is especially good at capturing the most interesting details about things and people, which are refined into natural and poetic texts for her novels. Her writings, refreshing, simple and pleasant, are very popular with her readers and are highly spoken of by the older generation of women writers like Sun Li· and Ru Zhijuan.· Like Wang Anyi, she also describes the stagnant, backward and closed villages. But unlike Wang Anyi, Tie Ning is intent on presenting how the people in this closed and isolated environment aspire and strive for the bustling modernizations.

Nabushi meidouhua· (It's not the Flower of Meidou) unrolls a picture of a simple rural family life. Saozi· (the elder brother's wife), very kindhearted and obedient, has all the virtues of a traditional Chinese woman. However, the lack of schooling and ignorance affected their married life. Saozi was thirsty for knowledge and was eager to learn, and she encouraged Xiaoshu· (her husband's younger brother) to go to university. And she never stopped hoping for a better life. This was a sad story; at the same time it was a song praising the beautiful soul of a Chinese woman.

The novel O, Xiangxue· (Oh, Xiangxue) also describes the impact of the hustle and bustle of modernizations on remote areas. Tair Gou· is a small mountain village and its backwardness was in sharp constrast with the social progress of the Eighties. The newly laid railway brings modern civilization into the mountains. The female character, Xiangxue,· is the only student who has received up to a secondary education. She jumps on a moving train at night just for the purpose of getting a magnetic pencil-box. Xiangxue's quest is representative of the urgent desire of rural youth for modernizatin. And the train, embodying modern civilization, in a way, is a 'long green dragon' that brings the new spirit of the epoch into the village as well as joys and hopes for village girls.

The publication of Tie Ning's medium-length novel A Red Shirt Without Buttons caused an even greater sensation. It features a sixteen-year-old school-girl who is named "An Ran"· (meaning 'restful') but is actually "Bu An Ran"· (meaning 'restless'). A secondary school student, she is a born extrovert, quick-witted, vivacous and diligent. She dares to resist the incorrect way of teaching. She insists on wearing the red shirt without buttons even at the expense of losing her title of a "model student". Her sincere and ingenuine mentality is typical of the adolescent girls of her time. Her searchings, and her conflicts and clashes with her teachers, classmates, parents and her elder sister, provide food for thought about the problems of our society and intensely reflect the trial of strength, the wrestling between old and new values.

In 1984, Tie Ning's Maijie duo· (A Buttress of Wheat Straw) attracted great attention with its profound depictions of cultural psychology and value concepts, and was regarded on a par with Wang Anyi's Little Bao Village as the the most outstanding creations among the cultural story series.

In her treatment of feminist subjects, Tie Ning has always tried to free herself from a purely faminist vision, just as she says: "I yearn for a double, two-way vision, or 'a third vision', which will enable me to observe precisely and objectively the real situation of women's existence." She maintains that: "In China, not all the women have a clear notion and aim to emancipate themselves; more often than not, it is not men but women themselves that impose enslavement and oppresion to their hearts and souls. So when you write about women, you must jump out of the ego bestowed upon you by your own gender. Then, and only then, can your description of women's substance and glamour become more credible and convincing. And then you can dig further into the very depth of human life, human desires and humanity."14 Small wonder that a critic once commented that one of Tie Ning's long novels "[...] provides a new direction for the research of the psychology and sociology of feminism."15

Coming into the Nineties, Tie Ning published Duimian· (Confrontation), in which she experiments with her concept of "shuangxiang shijiao"· ("two-way vision") to capture the true scenario of women's existence, bringing out fresh prospects of love and marriage.


Summing up, we can come to the conclusion that literary creations by women writers in modem and contempory China have been undergoing changes and developments with the evolution of time, historical transformation and social progress. Women writers have made remarkable and encouraging achievements in their pioneering efforts and in their literary creation of female characters. r

Translated from the Chinese by: Ieong Sao Leng, Sylvia 杨秀玲Yang Xiuling

* Female scholar, associate professor of the Chinese Department,· South China Normal University.·


1 MAO Dun 茅盾, Lu Yin Lun «卢隐论» (On Lu Yin)

2 MAO Dun 茅盾, Nü zuojia Ding Ling, Mao Dun lun Zhongguo xiandai zuopin «女作家丁玲,茅盾论中国现代作品» (On Ding Ling, in Mao Dun on Modern Chinese Writings), Beijing 北京, Beijing Daxue Chubanshe 北京大学出版社 Beijing University Press, 1980.

3 SUN Ruizhen 孙瑞珍 - SHANG Xia 尚侠 - WANG Zhongchen 王中忱 - et al., Ding Ling tan ziji chuangzuo <<丁玲谈自己创作» (Ding Ling Commenting on her Own Works), in "Xin Yuan" "新苑" ("New Garden"), (4) 1980 — Proofread by Ding Ling herself.

4 ZHANG Ailing 张爱玲, Zhang Ailing «流言» (Liuyan), Taibei 台北, Huangguan Chubanshe 皇冠出版社 Huangguan Press, 1968.

5 YANG Mo 杨沫, Tantan Lin Daojing de xingxiang «谈谈林道静形象» (On the Image of Lin Daojing), in "Wenyi Luncong" "文艺论丛" ("Commentaries on Art and Literature"), February 1978.

6 YANG Guixin 杨桂欣, Jijie Lun «寂洁论» (On Zhang Jie), in "Dangdai Zuojia Lun" "当代作家论" ("Commentaries by Contemporary writers"), 2 vols., Zuojia Chubanshe 作家出版社 Zuojia Press, 1986, vol.1.

7 ZHANG Kangkang 张抗抗, Cong Taiyuan Xiaomimi dao Dandan De Chenwu «从<太阳眯眯笑>到<淡淡的晨雾>» (From The Smiling Sun to Thin Morning Mist), in "Zhongguo Qingnian" "中国青年" ("China Youth"), (3) 1981.

8 WAN Qinghua 万庆华, Meizai, Dongfang Nüxing «美哉'“东方女性”» (Great: The Oriental Female), in "Wenxue Bao" "文学报" ("Literature Journal"), 3 November 1983.

9 LAN Shuping 篮舒平, Dongfang Nüxing you mingxian quexian «东方女性 有明显缺陷» (The Obvious Flaws of The Oriental Female); YANG Wenhu 杨文虎, Lin Qingfen nenggou chengwei yizhong daode guifan ma? «林清芬能够成为一种道德规范吗?» (Can Lin Qingfen Become a Moral Standard-Bearer? ), in "Wenxue Bao" "文学报" ("Literature Journal"), 3 November 1983.

10 CHEN Rong 谌容, Benxiang weilai «奔向未来» (Marching to the Future), in "Wenyi Bao" 文艺报 ("Art and Literature Journal"), (15) 1981.

11 ZHANG Xinxin 张辛欣, Biyao de huida «必要的回答» (A Necessary Answer), in "Wenyi Bao" "文艺报" ("Art and Literature Journal"), (6) 1983.

12 Huazhong Shifan Daxue [Bianxie zu team] 华中师范大学〔编写组〕 (Huazhong Normal University ), Zhongguo Dangdai Wenxue «中国当代文学» (Contemporary Chinese Literature), Shanghai 上海, Shanghai Wenyi Chubanshe 上海文艺出版社 Shanghai Wenyi Press, 1989, vol. 3, p.99.

13 ZHAO Lesheng 赵乐牲, Xifuwei Tan Enmei zhu «<喜福会>谭恩美著» (On Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan), Jilin Wenshi Chubanshe 吉林文史出版社 Jilin Press, 1994.

14 TIE Ning铁凝, Chuangzao nüren «创造女人» (Creating Women), in "Dangdai wenxue yanjiuzhe ziliao yu xinxi" "当代文学研究资料与信息" ("Contemporary Literary Research"), March 1995, p.30.

15 Idem.

start p. 227
end p.