I Read Han Han's "Party (独唱团)": Part II

By Canaan Morse, published

Of the Fiction:

I have to give Bei Shan’s “When You Go to Sa City” (北山,你们去卅城) one thumbs-up for being pretty 给力. From a writer’s point of view, I find that while it is easy to write about vice, it requires much better insight and more courage to appreciate the artistry of vice well done. His description of the brothels’ glittery guest-end exterior and cold, professional human resources system is so in sync with my understanding of China that I am ready to believe such a place exists. I would also be interested in knowing what else Bei Shan has written.

I want to Talk to This World For a While (我想和这个世界谈谈) Not all the praise of Han Han as a writer is unreasonable. His sense of plot structure is much clearer, his narrative voice visibly more mature than most of the other contributors here. The character of the honest prostitute is believable because he hasn’t romanticized her. She reflects the narrator at his present age just as the unnamed little girl reflects him when he was five, and these reflections connect to form a story of emotional change that parallels (perhaps inversely?) the actual chain of events. The progression at the end, his fall from the flagpole, is predictable. Still, the story is supposedly not yet finished.

Shen Wen’s “You’re Not Going This Summer (沈纹 这个夏天你去不了) is disappointingly sentimental for such clean prose. If she backed a few steps away from her characters minds and just stuck with her vivid portrayals of light and dark, it would lift this story out of the Reader’s Digest pile and make it worthy of re-reading. It would also make it considerably shorter. What I find most interesting about her idiom is how heavily Westernized it is—English description right down to the sentence structure, so noticeable it’s hard to believe.

An interesting note: I remember attending a talk once by Xu Zechen (and somebody else, I forget whom) in which Xu pointed out that the majority of Chinese contemporary authors wrote primarily about the countryside; while he, by contrast, was an urban author trying to capture the spirit of a new China. Yet here in this first edition of Party, I find that both the countryside and the metropolis as settings have been moved somewhat to the periphery, while the nameless provincial cities (县城,小镇) advance to the front. Han Han, Bei Shan, Lao Wangzi and Peng Haoxiang all set their stories here. Indirect description of these environments portrays them as more fluid, perhaps more ephemeral, than both the village and the big city, where the remoteness of the first isolates and enhances the new capitalist freedom of the second. This might be a fresher background to a foreign eye, since even those of us who have the chance to stop in a provincial city never stay there, assuming there be nothing for us to see.


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