"White Deer Plain" Author Chen Zhongshi Dies

By Bruce Humes, published

Chen Zhongshi, Shaanxi-based author of the 20th-century classic, White Deer Plain (白鹿原, 陈忠实著), has died.

Three thoughts:

1) White Deer Plain has been published in French, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese. Anyone working on the English, and if not, why not?

2) The novel was published in 1993. Any insights into why he wrote relatively little thereafter?

3) How to render the first line of White Deer Plain --- especially ---:



# 1.   
  1. There seems to be copyrights issues. Sth about a certain publisher holding rights of other languages or in other countries. Chen told me when I interviewed him some five years ago that he wasn't experienced in copyrights when the book was first published. He said he wouldn't ask much if someone could get it published in English. Too bad that the film adaptation only captutured a fraction of the book, and failed to present the most important parts.

  2. My impression was that he was exhausted by this book. For 田小蛾 alone, he spent several years digging in the records of county annals. 白驾轩 was more or less based on his grandfather. He lived in his home village for a long time, working with the peasants to get a real feel of country life. He did look like an old farmer to me.

  3. “Seven wives” should be enough. It'll involve some explanation to see what each marriage involved. Better let readers go on.

Liu Jun, April 30, 2016, 3:33a.m.

# 2.   

No, I don't think anyone's working on the English. As far as I can tell, Beijing October Arts and Literature Publishing House (北京十月文艺出版社) is very keen on selling someone the English rights. Presumably that means they actually have them, though sometimes that's a dangerous assumption to make!

Personally, I feel like this book's window for translation has already closed. It's the kind of enormous rural historical epic that readers seem to be getting tired of (or maybe it's just me who's gotten tired of them). It would be hard to pitch it in an exciting way, or to make it sound significantly different from the other rural epics that are already in Chinese...

Eric Abrahamsen, April 30, 2016, 11a.m.

# 3.   

It's a pity that few people outside China want to read novels about rural life, which I believe holds the key to real understanding of this vast ancient country -- where it came from and where it might be headed to. Chen Zhongshi's novel reached a great depth seldom surpassed by his peer. His language and plot were very mature for a novel of that period, when the nation was still licking the wounds of the Cultural Revelution. In a way it reminds me of The Dream of The Red Chamber (Hong Lou Meng) in its character building and the depth of thinking. I particularly liked Master Zhu, he's the kind of intellectual who persisted with his ideals even when he knew it would fail -- just like Confucius, and exactly how the author finished this master piece. If the part about 白灵's death in the hands of her comrades were given more details, it could have been even bolder -- and banned longer. There's so much about this novel that any reader will find sth fascinating, sex for example, politics, history, folklore, and the complexity of human nature.

Liu Jun, April 30, 2016, 11:30a.m.

# 4.   

It's not just you, Eric. It's not just you ...

Anna Gustafsson Chen, May 1, 2016, 4:21p.m.

# 5.   

ad 3: here seems to be a measure word (量词): ... he has been married to seven women in his life. According to my dictionary it is supposed to be used for daughters-in-law or concubines only: 娶一房小老婆 - take a concubine

Justin, May 4, 2016, 5:23p.m.

# 6.   

Bai Youxuan would later be remembered as the man who had seven wives.

I might have a go at the first chapter...

Luisetta Mudie, May 9, 2016, 6:05p.m.

# 7.   

I interviewed Chen Zhongshi in Aug 2010. Here's my report for China Daily.

Liu Jun, May 10, 2016, 12:15a.m.

# 8.   

Great article, Liu Jun, thanks!

Luisetta Mudie, May 10, 2016, 7:59a.m.

# 9.   

There seems to be much interest in Chen Zhongshi, so I just wrote a new blog on why English readers might like his novel.

Liu Jun, May 11, 2016, 5:10a.m.

# 10.   

Sorry, should have written Jiaxuan - getting mixed up with Prof. Wang!

Great read, Liu Jun!

I am drafting my way slowly through Chapter 1 now.

Luisetta Mudie, May 11, 2016, 8:21a.m.


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