Xi Juan and the Chinese Romance Novel

Xi JuanMost people associate Chinese literature with the sweeping landscapes of the classic novels, like Journey to the West and Romance of the Three Kingdoms. However, in modern China, another type of book rules the sales racks: romance novels.

Born in 1972 in Taiwan, Xi Juan (席绢) is one of the most prolific and popular writers in modern China. Although her works may not end up in any Chinese literature curricula, she continues to be one of the most influential Chinese writers of her time.

Xi Juan’s works are classic romance novels. Often centering on a threesome – usually a girl and two guys – Xi Juan’s writing practically invented the formulaic styles that flood the shelves of romance books in China today. Most of Xi Juan’s novels – of which there are dozens – incorporate some type of mix up that creates a type of humor not terribly unlike the Western version of a romantic comedy. It is because of this lighthearted tone that Xi Juan’s works are often referred to in Chinese as “ice cream” lit. Read the rest of this entry »

Who was Lao She?

Lao She

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Born in 1899 to a poor Manchu family in Beijing, Lao She became one of the most important figures of 20th century Chinese literature. Both a playwright and novelist, Lao She’s works explore the dark side of the times he lived through, including the Sino-Japanese War (1937 – 1945). Among the major themes in Lao She’s writings are those of human frailty and cruelty with strong overtones of social and cultural commentary of the times in which they were written.

Lao She’s early childhood was critical in the way that his writings developed, especially thematically. In 1901, at the age of two, Lao She lost his father, who was a guard soldier, to a street fight during the Boxer Rebellion. Growing up, his mother struggled to provide for the family and often regaled Lao She with frightening stories of war and “barbaric foreign devils”, which the writer later recalled as being more terrifying than children’s monster stories.

Despite the family’s financial difficulties, Lao She attended Beijing Normal University and went on to teach in local high schools before moving to London in 1924. It was here, while serving as a lecturer at the School of Oriental [and African] Studies, that Lao She began to read in English. He absorbed a great deal of classical English literature and is said to have been especially influenced by the works of Charles Dickens, whose themes of social inequality and human suffering no doubt resonated with Lao She. Read the rest of this entry »

Author Spotlight: Eileen Chang

The Battle of Love - Traditional ChineseEileen Chang was one of the most influential Chinese writers of her time, and perhaps the single most influential female Chinese writer of the 20th century. Born in Shanghai in 1920, Chang lived through the glamor of 1940s Shanghai and the tumult of the Second Sino-Japanese War in the 1940s. She came from a fractured family — her parents divorced when she was 10 and she was largely raised by her opium-addicted father who was physically and emotionally abusive toward her. Later, she studied in Hong Kong and spent time living in England with her mother before permanently settling in the United States.

Eileen Chang was a notorious recluse, becoming ever more solitary as she got older. She endured two marriages and a miscarriage before passing away alone in her apartment in Los Angeles at the age of 74.

A born writer, Eileen Chang penned her first short novel at the age of 12 and never looked back. In her early 20s, an important Shanghai editor became interested in Chang’s writings and, by 1944, she was one of the most popular writers in the city. In her 30s after she’d emigrated to the U.S., Chang began to write books in English, although most of her work from that period was not appreciated until after her death. Read the rest of this entry »