ONE HALF OF THE SKY: Stories from Contemporary Women Writers of China by R.A. & Angela Knox--Trans. Roberts

ONE HALF OF THE SKY: Stories from Contemporary Women Writers of China

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Eight short stories written between 1920 and 1979, taken from a three-volume collection published in 1980 in Guangzhou. All are simple narratives; most concern romantic love and political events--from the May 4th Movement of 1919 through the Cultural Revolution. As the editor/translators point out, Chinese women's literature is still in its infancy. Indeed, the tradition of Chinese vernacular literature by women or men isn't yet one hundred years old; up until the early part of this century, texts were in a classical prose understood only by the few. And this collection reflects just that--a tradition as yet unformed. There is no room for stylistic experimentation at this stage. As in most Chinese literature of the past 50 years now being translated (with such notable exceptions as the recent macabre Butcher's Wife by Li Ang), character and plot are subservient to moral or message. The older generation of writers is represented by veteran Ding Ling, whose early work and unconventional life rocked the late 1920's/early 30's literary establishment, and whose later persecution by the authorities and subsequent rehabilitation became emblematic of the nonconformist artist's life in 20th-century China; and by Bing Xin, Yu Ru, Ru Zhijuan, and Ding Ning. ""Proper"" fictional subject matter for these writers was more or less prescribed by Mao, who in 1042 admonished that literature should be about and by the ordinary worker and the peasant. A kind of piety pervades their stories, but even when a sentimental outcome can be anticipated, as in Ru Zhijuan's ""Lilies""--about a felled soldier--one responds unabashedly, with emotion, as to a fable. Xu Naijian, Zhang Xinxin, and Zhang Kangkang, born in the 1950's. were likewise restricted as to content, but for another reason: they came of age during the Cultural Revolution, when it was taboo to read Western literature. Thus they were locked for a time in a self-referential tradition--a tentative literature that redounded upon itself. It is perhaps no coincidence that the stories of these three younger writers all feature a sympathetic ""tomboyish"" heroine struggling to overcome her inarticulateness in love. The capable translations are British-style; Roberts is Australian and Knox, English. Six of the longish biographies appended to the book are by the authors themselves.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1988
Publisher: Dodd, Mead