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Shuo Yang

Teoksen A selection of prose pieces tekijä

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Includes the name: Yang Shuo

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Maa (karttaa varten)
PRC China
Penglai, China



Yang Shuo 杨朔 is an almost completely forgotten Chinese author, barely known to readers outside China. Born in 1913, Yang Shuo met a tragic death, killing himself with an overdose of sleeping tablets in 1968, at the height of the Cultural Revolution. Born in Penglai, in Shandong Province, Yang Shuo studied English Language and Literature in Harbin, which brought him into contact with Western literature, and subsequently studied Law and Political Science, while simultaneously studying classical Chinese Literature. His early poetry was written in traditional style, but during the 1930s he enthusiastically embraced communism, joining the Eighth Route Army and settling to work at Mao Zedong's revolutionary base in Yan'an. Starting from 1937, he wrote a number of novels describing the soldiers and the people in Yan'an, celebrating the glorious Chinese revolution, in novels such as The Spur of the Pamirs, Scars and Wounds, The Red Stone Hill, a novel about Chinese miner's struggle against the Japanese invaders. In just about three decades, and very harsh circumstances, Yang Shuo wrote 11 novels, besides short stories, prose and poetry.

A selection of prose pieces collects 14 short stories and pieces of prose, all written between 1949 and 1963.

The prose pieces written in the 1950s are almost all very positive, celebrating the glorious achievement of the Chinese revolution. "March on, Army of Steel!" (1949) is a jubilant description of the Red Army entering and taking possession of Beiping (now Beijing). Later stories, describe life in the first Communist decade, during which China developed at a high speed, approaching some of the utopian ideals, which were so brutally smashed during the following decade. This leads to some curious passages, as for example the following fragment from "The Fairyland of Penglai" (1959):

At the end of our casual chat, my sister found out that I was being put up at the office of the county Party committee and asked me to come to dinner the next day. I did not want to come because I was afraid that she might not have enough food. But she said, "You must come. What are you afraid of?" Then, pointing to the dry wheat in her basket, she continued with a smile, "Look, this is what we just got. Isn't it enough for you? Last year we did fairly well because of the success of the Great Leap Forward. This year the wheat harvest is better than ever. Do you think you could still eat enough to make me poor?"
I had to agree to come. On the next day, contrary to what I thought would be an ordinary family dinner, my sister treated me as an honored guest with the most extravagant four dishes of our hometown: fish sauteed with soy sauce, scrambled eggs, pan-fried potato strips and vermicelli made from bean-starch. Noodles were served as the last dish with shrimp that had been newly sun-dried.
"You live pretty well," I could not help saying.
My sister replied, smiling nonchalantly: "We do. We have whatever we want." (p. 50-51).

A description like that seems very representative for the success of the early years of Communism in China, as people might have felt and experienced life in 1952-1957, but the odd reference to the Great Leap Forward makes one wonder whether the story is not actually more than a piece of propaganda.

However, during the mid-1950s, Yang Shuo prose increasingly incorporates beautiful descriptions of scenes of natural beauty around Beijing, such as in "Red Leaves on Xiangshan" (1956) and "Baihuashan" (1957), but these stories still mostly take the achievements and anecdotes of soldiers of the People's Liberation Army as their main focus, against the backdrop of beautiful descriptions. In the early 60s, the stories become even lyrical, while the focus shifts to describing common people, and natural beauty in its own right, such as in the prose pieces "Lychee Honey" (1960), and "Ode to the Camellia" (1961).

The last two pieces in the collections bear the sub-title "A Series od Lyrical Essays on the Jinggang Mountains". The first of these stories, "The Hai Luo Fir" records anecdotes about Chaiman Mao's residence at the heart of the Jinggang Mountains, as told by an old local, and observed by an old fir tree. The second piece "Xi Jiang Yue" is an essay which ties the poetry of Mao Zedong to the age-old tradition of Chinese poetry.

The lyrical style of A selection of prose pieces present a style of writing in post-revolutionary Chinese writing which is quite unique. Written before China's dark decade, it describes the achievements of Chinese communism with a heart-felt optimism, while attempting to create a new style of writing, mixing traditional lyrical elements with a revolutionary style of writing.

A selection of prose pieces was translated and published in 1980, by the Foreign Languages Press.
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edwinbcn | Dec 31, 2013 |


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