Wang Meng 王蒙

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Wang Meng’s story is unique among Chinese writers. Born in 1934 in Beijing, he began life under Japanese occupation, and as a young man became an ardent supporter of the Communist Party and the Chinese revolutionary cause.

The short story “A Young Man Comes to the Organizational Department,” published in 1956, nearly ended Wang’s literary career before it began: its critique of bureaucracy was interpreted as an attack on Party authority. It wasn’t until the story came to the attention of Chairman Mao himself, who praised its rebellious spirit, that Wang was assured of a career, and a reputation.

In 1963 he applied to be sent to Xinjiang, amid a general enthusiasm for re-connecting with rural society – he had long been told that his writing was too intellectual. He and his family would eventually spend sixteen years living and working in Yining, near the Khazahstan border, during which time he learned the Uighur language and became familiar with local culture. The experience left a profound mark on him as a person and a writer, and much of his most important later writing draws on his experiences in Xinjiang – most notably the short story “A Pair of Grey Eyes,” and the novel “The Scenery Around Here.” It also confirmed for him the importance of fiction grounded in real experience and real people, and while his literary voice bursts with lyrical creativity, his stories grow from close observation of life.

A year after the end of the Cultural Revolution, Wang and his family returned to Beijing, and to acceptance in literary society. Throughout the 80s, as enthusiasm for culture and literature steadily mounted, Wang’s cachet continued to rise. He was gradually promoted within the China Writers Association, and finally was made Minister of Culture in 1986. He lasted three years in office, before quietly stepping down in late 1989, a year that also saw the publication of his seminal short story, “Tough Porridge,” an allegorical commentary on reforms.

The light, ironic tone of that story characterizes much of Wang Meng’s writing, particularly that produced since the early 90s. Humor and self-deprecation come easily to him, something he attributes to the influence of Uighur culture, but surely also stems from the staggering range of conditions under which he has lived and written over his long life.

Canaan Morse


Original Works

Short story (11)

Novel (3)

Flash fiction (4)

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