Paper Republic: Chinese Literature Matters

后罩楼 (lit. Back Quarters at Number Seven)

Short story by Ye Guangqin.

See Back Quarters at Number Seven for details on this story by Manchu writer Ye Guangqin (叶广芩), which has been translated by Bruce Humes and published in Spring 2014 Pathlight.


Back Quarters at Number Seven

Translated by Bruce Humes

In Back Quarters at Number Seven (后罩楼, tr. Bruce Humes), author Ye Guangqin (叶广芩) recreates what it was like growing up Manchu in a traditional Beijing hutong during the early years of the New China. Once part of a prince’s stately residence, the Big Courtyard now belongs to the masses and serves as a venue for collective activities such as neighborhood meetings, or rehearsals for the Rice-Planting Dance performed on National Day.

Traditionally, at the very rear of a Qing Dynasty prince’s mansion one finds a two-floor structure that functioned to “enshroud and anchor the entire quadrangular compound.” These “back quarters” — “Number 7” in the cold military parlance of post-liberation Beijing in this tale — housed females. They were private and not easily accessible to men, even those of noble lineage, residing within the compound.

Herself a member of a Manchu family related to the infamous Empress Dowager Cixi, Ye Guangqin peppers this semi-autobiographical story with references to Manchu culture: the mysterious Zhen Gege, whose title “gege” means princess in Manchu (格格); jangkulembi (撞客), a sudden and inauspicious encounter with a spirit that can engender illness or bad fortune; and of course, the traditional art of story-telling among the Manchu that expressed itself during the Qing Dynasty both orally and through literature.

Ironically, the fascination of two children with Grandpa Zhao’s tall tales ends in tragedy when the Cultural Revolution arrives, and Red Guards target class enemies — including remnants of the Qing ruling class.

The full short story has been published in Spring 2014 Pathlight, a quarterly featuring Chinese literature in translation. To read an extract, click here.


The Back Quarters at Number Seven Pathlight: New Chinese Writing June 2014 Mainland China