From a member of China's New Wave, three novellas of a disturbing intensity make their US debut--including ``Raise the Red Lantern,'' the basis of an acclaimed 1991 film. Set in provincial China of the 1930's, all three stories evoke a place where a concubine might have attended college and a landlord's son might have learned to play tennis at his boarding school--but where the harsh old ways still prevail. Women, even the most spirited, are broken by men's brutality and by other women's spite. In the title piece, Lotus has to leave college to become the fourth concubine of a rich merchant when her bankrupt father commits suicide. Only one of the three other women is friendly; the rest plot and spy on her. Lonely and unhappy, Lotus is drawn to a quiet courtyard in the compound where a well stands under a wisteria vine--a sinister place with a sinister reputation: it's rumored that adulterous concubines are thrown into the well. When Lotus observes shadowy figures throwing in the third concubine, her friend Coral, who's been found with another man, she retreats into insanity. ``Nineteen Thirty-four Escapes'' is an equally harsh account of a momentous year--1934--in one family. The father has left to work in a town where he takes a mistress; meanwhile, back in the village and pregnant with her seventh child, his wife, Grandmother Jiang, ekes out a living planting rice for the local landlord. When the eldest child runs away to join his father, and five others die from cholera, she has only one option. Finally, ``Opium Family'' details the last years of a rich landowning family whose horrible demise is brought about by corruption--they grow and sell opium--lust, and treachery. No day-brighteners these, but distinctive prose searingly describes men and women brutally shaped by their time and place. A writer to watch.