There is certainly no shortage of writing about contemporary China by historians, journalists, and political scientists. While their work and analysis undoubtedly deepens our understanding of China, it is often left to fiction to fill in some of the gaps and provide a richer appreciation of the impact of the changes in contemporary China on individuals. One of the authors most frequently cited for his depiction of the grittier side of today’s China has been Zhu Wen.
Recently in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Jeffrey Wasserstrom talked with Julia Lovell, the translator of Zhu Wen’s The Matchmaker, the Apprentice, and the Football Fan: More Stories of China. In their discussion, Lovell, who also translated Zhu Wen’s earlier novel, I Love Dollars and Other Stories of China, talks about the ways in which Zhu Wen’s novels capture both the amorality of contemporary China and the impact of political pressures on day-to-day life in China.
The interview ranges over a variety of subjects including the influence of foreign writers such as Borges and Kafka on Zhu Wen’s work; new developments in contemporary Chinese fiction; and the distinctiveness of Zhu Wen’s style and thematic treatment of contemporary Chinese society. Returning to the notion of the political implications of Zhu Wen’s stories, Lovell comments:
When we were planning this collection, I think that Zhu Wen wanted me to include some stories that showed a greater political engagement than those in the previous book, and I believe that the context does come through more strongly in this volume: in particular the moral vacuum resulting principally from the protests and bloody suppression of 1989, but more broadly from post-Mao disillusionment with the Communist political experiment…. Zhu Wen has no pretensions to diagnosing the state of the nation here, but his work does compel the reader to engage with a highly personal, maverick and critical response to China’s present and recent past. He forces us to acknowledge the complexity and individuality of contemporary Chinese experiences and perspectives. I think this is particularly valuable when approaching a country like China, whose sheer vastness can sometimes obscure individual detail.