WRITINGS BY THE AUTHOR:
- Bingwa [Soldier Boy] (Beijing: Zhongguo shaonian ertong chubanshe, 1977).
- Jiemei benji [Stories of the Sisters] (Hefei: Anhui renmin chubanshe, 1978).
- Zaochen de ge [Morning Songs] (Xi'an: Shaanxi renmin chubanshe, 1980).
- Shandi biji [Notes from the Highlands] (Shanghai: Shanghai wenyi chubanshe, 1980).
- Jia Pingwa xiaoshuo xinzuo ji [Collection of Jia Pingwa's Recent Short Stories] (Beijing: Zhongguo qingnian chubanshe, 1981).
- Yehuo ji [Wild Fires] (Xi'an: Shaanxi renmin chubanshe, 1982).
- Yueji [Traces of the Moon] (Tianjin: Baihua wenyi chubanshe, 1982).
- Xiaoyue qianben [A Preliminary Biography of Xiaoyue] (Guangzhou: Huacheng chubanshe, 1984).
- Pingwa wenlun ji [Collected Essays of Jia Pingwa] (Xining: Qinghai renmin chubanshe, 1985).
- Xinji [Traces of the Heart] (Chengdu: Sichuan wenyi chubanshe, 1985).
- Aide zong ji [Traces of Love] (Shanghai: Shanghai wenyi chubanshe, 1985).
- Layue, zhengyue [December, January] (Beijing: Shiyue wenyi chubanshe, 1985).
- Pingwa youji xuan [Jia Pingwa's Travel Writing] (Xi'an: Shaanxi renmin meishu chubanshe, 1986).
- Kongbai [Blank] (Guangzhou: Huacheng chubanshe, 1986).
- Xinshiqi zhongpian xiaoshuo mingzuo congshu: Jia Pingwa ji [Famous Novellas of the New Era: Jia Pingwa Volume] (Fuzhou: Haixia wenyi chubanshe, 1986).
- Guli [Home Village] (Zhengzhou: Zhongyuan nongmin chubanshe, 1987).
- Wanchang [Evening Songs] (Tianjin: Baihua wenyi chubanshe, 1987).
- Jia Pingwa sanwen zixuanji [Essays by Jia Pingwa: Author's Own Selection] (Guilin: Lijiang chubanshe, 1987).
- Shangzhou (Beijing: Shiyue wenyi chubanshe, 1987).
- Shangzhou sanlu [Three Records of Shangzhou] (Tianjin: Baihua wenyi chubanshe, 1988).
- Fuzao (Beijing: Zuojia chubanshe, 1988); translated by Howard Goldblatt as Turbulence: A Novel (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1991).
- Renshen [Pregnancy] (Beijing: Zuojia chubanshe, 1989).
- Jingxucun sanye [Fallen Leaves at Tranquillity Village] (Xi'an: Shaanxi jiaoyu chubanshe, 1990).
- Baosan di [The Place for Gathering the Scattered] (Beijing: Zuojia chubanshe, 1991).
- Jia Pingwa xiaoshuo jingxuan (The Best of Jia Pingwa's Fiction), edited by Ma Shixiong (Xi'an: Shaanxi renmin chubanshe, 1991).
- Shou wandi [The Place of Perpetual Playfulness] (Beijing: Renmin wenxue chubanshe, 1991).
- Renshen; guangshan [Pregnancy, Rambling in the Mountains] (Beijing: Zuojia chubanshe, 1992).
- Jia Pingwa youpin jingxuan (The Best of Jia Pingwa's Travel Writing), edited by Wang Xinmin and Xiaoli (Xi'an: Shaanxi renmin chubanshe, 1992).
- Xianren [Idlers] (Beijing: Zuojia chubanshe, 1992).
- Jia Pingwa sanwen jingxuan (The Best of Jia Pingwa's Essays), edited by Handan and Wang Chuan (Xi'an: Shaanxi renmin chubanshe, 1992).
- Renji [Human Traces] (Wuhan: Chang jiang wenyi chubanshe, 1992).
- Jia Pingwa huojiang zhongpian xiaoshuo ji (Collection of Jia Pingwa's Prize-Winning Novellas), edited by Xuanzi (Xi'an: Xibei daxue chubanshe, 1992).
- Fushi juan [Chapters in a Floating Life] (Beijing: Zuojia chubanshe, 1992).
- Feidu [Capital in Ruins] (Beijing: Beijing chubanshe, 1993; revised edition, Beijing: Wenhua yishu chubanshe, 2009).
- Jia Pingwa sanwen daxi (Complete Collection of Jia Pingwa's Essays), 3 volumes (Guilin: Lijiang chubanshe, 1993).
- You yueliang [The Oily Moon] (Beijing: Zuojia chubanshe, 1993).
- Foguan [The Trials of the Buddha] (Beijing: Zuojia chubanshe, 1994).
- Heishi [Darkie] (Beijing: Zuojia chubanshe, 1994).
- Zuofo [A Seated Buddha] (Xi'an: Taibai wenyi chubanshe, 1994).
- Tuihun [Breaking of the Engagement] (Taibei: Xiapu chubanshe, 1994).
- Sishi sui shuo [On Turning Forty] (Xi'an: Shaanxi lüyou chubanshe, 1994).
- Jia Pingwa rensheng xiaopin ( Jia Pingwa's Essays on the Philosophy of Life), edited by Shi Zixun and Liu Yucun (Shijiazhuang: Hebei renmin chubanshe, 1994).
- Taibai [Mt. Taibai] (Chengdu: Sichuan wenyi chubanshe, 1994).
- Honghu [The Red Fox] (Beijing: Zhongguo huaqiao chubanshe, 1994).
- Huangtu gaoyuan (Yellow Earth Plateau), edited by Fan Peisong (Taibei: Youshi chubanshe, 1995).
- Baosanji [Collection of the Scattered] (Hong Kong: Tiandi tushu gongshi, 1995).
- Jia Pingwa xiaoshuo jingxuan (The Best of Jia Pingwa's Fiction), edited by Xuanzi and Wang Na (Xi'an: Taibai wenyi chubanshe, 1995).
- Zhonghua sanwen zhencangben: Jia Pingwa juan [A Treasury of Chinese Essays: Jia Pingwa] (Beijing: Renmin wenxue chubanshe, 1995).
- Jia Pingwa wenji (Selected Works of Jia Pingwa), 8 volumes, edited by Lei Da (Beijing: Zhongguo wenlian chuban gongsi, 1995).
- Shangzhou: shuobujinde gushi (Shangzhou: The Story Continues), 4 volumes (Beijing: Huaxia chubanshe, 1995).
- Shuohua [The Act of Speaking] (Xi'an: Shaanxi renmin chubanshe, 1995).
- Baiye [White Night] (Beijing: Huaxia chubanshe, 1995).
- Tumen [Earth Gate] (Shenyang: Chunfeng wenyi, 1996).
- Gaolao Zhuang [Old Gao Village] (Beijing: Zuojia chubanshe, 1996).
- Ru yutang [The Hall of Quasi Language] (Beijing: Zhongguo gongren chubanshe, 1996).
- Shijie huawen sanwen jingpin: Jia Pingwa juan [The World's Best Chinese Essays: Jia Pingwa Volume] (Guangzhou: Guangzhou chubanshe, 1996).
- Zhongguo dangdai caizi shu: Jia Pingwa juan (A Treasury of Contemporary Chinese Literature: Jia Pingwa), edited by Yemang (Wuhan: Chang jiang wenyi chubanshe, 1997).
- Zouchong: Jia Pingwa riji ji sanwen xinzuo [Two-Legged Animals: Jia Pingwa's Diaries and Recent Essays] (Beijing: Zhongguo qingnian chubanshe, 1997).
- The Castle, translated by Shao-pin Luo (Toronto: York Press, 1997); original Chinese version published as Gubao (Beijing: Renmin wenxue chubanshe, 2006).
- Jia Pingwa sanwen daxi (The Complete Collection of Jia Pingwa's Essays), 5 volumes (Taibei: Jin'an chubanshe, 1998).
- Jia Pingwa xiaoshuo jingxuan (The Best of Jia Pingwa's Fiction), 2 volumes (Taibei: Jin'an chubanshe, 1998).
- Jia Pingwa shuhua [Jia Pingwa's Calligraphy and Painting] (Xi'an: Shaanxi renmin meishu chubanshe, 1998).
- Zhongguo dangdai zuojia xuanji congshu: Jia Pingwa [Contemporary Chinese Writers Series: Jia Pingwa] (Beijing: Renmin wenxue chubanshe, 1998).
- Zhizao shengyin [Making Noises] (Beijing: Zuojia chubanshe, 1998).
- Zao yizuo fangzi zhumeng [Building a House for Dreams: Essays] (Beijing: Renmin ribao chubanshe, 1998).
- Jia Pingwa chansi meiwen ( Jia Pingwa's Zen Essays), edited by Kong Ming and Sun Jianxi (Guangzhou: Guangdong renmin chubanshe, 1998).
- Qiaomen [Knocking on the Door] (Beijing: Zuojia chubanshe, 1998).
- Jia Pingwa wenji (Complete Works of Jia Pingwa), 18 volumes, edited by Wang Yongsheng (Xi'an: Shaanxi renmin chubanshe, 1998-2004).
- Wo shi nongmin: zai xiangxia de wunian jiyi [I Am a Peasant: Memoirs of Five Years in the Countryside] (Changchun: Jilin renmin chubanshe, 1998).
- Zuo ge zizairen: Jia Pingwa xuba shuhua ji (Be a Man at Ease: Collection of Prefaces and Postscripts by Jia Pingwa), edited by Wang Xinmin (Huhehao-te: Neimengguo jiaoyu chubanshe, 1998).
- Jia Pingwa xiaoshuo xuan [Selected Stories of Jia Pingwa] (Beijing: Chinese Literature Press & Foreign Languages Teaching and Research Press, 1999).
- Meiguide gushi (Stories of Roses), by Jia and Xing Qingren (Changsha: Hunan wenyi chubanshe, 1999).
- Huangling bo [The Pines at the Yellow Emperor's Tomb Mount] (Changchun: Jilin sheying chubanshe, 1999).
- Fengli suona [The Sound of Suona Piping in the Wind] (Beijing: Zhongguo xiju chubanshe, 1999).
- Jiao gen taiyang [Following the Sun] (Beijing: Zhongguo xiju chubanshe, 1999).
- Ren caogao [Human Drafts] (Beijing: Zhongguo xiju chubanshe, 1999).
- Puti yu haizao [Bodhi and Persian Dates] (Beijing: Zhongguo xiju chubanshe, 1999).
- Shushangde yueliang [The Moon in the Trees] (Beijing: Zhongguo xiju chubanshe, 1999).
- Zai Shangshan [In the Shang Mountains] (Beijing: Zhongguo xiju chubanshe, 1999).
- Jia Pingwa sanwen suibi wenji [Jia Pingwa's Essays and Other Writings] (Lanzhou: Gansu renmin chubanshe, 1999).
- Jia Pingwa, edited by Pan Yaoming (Hong Kong: Mingbao yuekan chuban gongsi, 1999).
- Lao Xi'an: feidu xieyang [Old Xi'an: Sunset on the Capital in Ruins] (Nanjing: Jiangsu wenyi chubanshe, 1999).
- Xuezhe huo (Learning to Live), by Jia and Xia Fei (Lanzhou: Dunhuang wenyi chubanshe, 1999).
- Pingwa sanwen (Essays by Jia Pingwa), edited by Li Xing (Hangzhou: Zhejiang wenyi chubanshe, 2000).
- Wo shi nongmin [I Am a Peasant] (Xi'an: Shaanxi lüyou chubanshe, 2000).
- Huainian lang [Remembering Wolves] (Beijing: Zuojia chubanshe, 2000).
- Shuohua [On the Act of Speaking] (Xi'an: Shaanxi lüyou chubanshe, 2001).
- Xiaqi [Playing the Chess] (Xi'an: Shaanxi lüyou chubanshe, 2001).
- Hejiu [Drinking Wine] (Xi'an: Shaanxi lüyou chubanshe, 2001).
- Shangzhou sanlu [Three Records of Shangzhou] (Xi'an: Shaanxi lüyou chubanshe, 2001).
- Hei chibang zhi ge [Songs of Black Wings] (Guangzhou: Guangdong renmin chubanshe, 2001).
- Shangzhou ren: nanren pian [Shangzhou Folks: Men] (Hangzhou: Zhejiang wenyi chubanshe, 2001).
- Shangzhou ren: nüren pian [Shangzhou Folks: Women] (Hangzhou: Zhejiang wenyi chubanshe, 2001).
- Jia Pingwa duanwen [Jia Pingwa's Short Essays] (Chengdu: Sichuan wenyi chubanshe, 2002).
- Xilushang [On the Road to Xinjiang] (Kunming: Yunnan renmin chubanshe, 2002).
- Jiaozi guan [The Dumpling Restaurant] (Beijing: Xinshijie chubanshe, 2002).
- Tinglaide gushi [Stories Overheard] (Beijing: Renmin wenxue chubanshe, 2002).
- Bingxiang baogao [Health Reports] (Shanghai: Shanghai wenyi chubanshe, 2002).
- Wushi dahua [Talking Big at the Age of Fifty] (Wuhan: Chang jiang wenyi chubanshe, 2003).
- Ershi shiji zuojia wenku: A'ersasi [Twentieth-Century Writers Series: Arasas, the Debt Collector] (Nanjing: Jiangsu wenyi chubanshe, 2003).
- Jia Pingwa tan rensheng ( Jia Pingwa's Outlook on Life), edited by Zouzou (Shanghai: Shanghai shehui kexueyuan chubanshe, 2004).
- Xingling zhi lü: Jia Pingwa [The Journey of the Self and the Soul: Jia Pingwa] (Guangzhou: Guangdong renmin chubanshe, 2004).
- Jia Pingwa yuhua [Jia Pingwa's Words and Painting] ( Jianan: Shandong youyi chubanshe, 2004).
- Linjia shaofu [The Young Wife Next Door] (Beijing: Zuojia chubanshe, 2005).
- Biejiagou [The Valley] (Beijing: Zhongguo sanxiao chubanshe, 2005).
- Qinqiang [The Shaanxi Local Opera] (Beijing: Zuojia chubanshe, 2005).
- Shu shede: Zhongguoren de wenhua shenghuo [Talking about Generosity: On the Cultural Life of the Chinese People] (Shanghai: Dongfang chuban zhongxin, 2006).
- Wode renshengguang [My View on Life] (Kunming: Yunnan renmin chubanshe, 2006).
- Gaoxing [Happiness] (Beijing: Zuojia chubanshe, 2007).
- Jingshui shenliu [Quiet Water Runs Deep] (Zhengzhou: Henan wenyi chubanshe, 2008).
- Jin Shandong [Entering Shandong] (Beijing: Renmin wenxue chubanshe, 2008).
- Huofa [The Way to Live] (Beijing: Zhongguo wenlian chubanshe, 2009).
- Jiaozi guan [The Dumpling Restaurant] (Beijing: Xinhua chubanshe, 2010).
- Gulu [Ancient Kiln] (Beijing: Renmin wenxue chubanshe, 2010).
- Dingxi biji [Notes on Quietening the West] (Beijing: Renmin wenxue chubanshe, 2011).
- Sanwen yanjiu (Studies on the Essay), edited by Jia (Baoding: Hebei daxue chubanshe, 2000).
- Meiwen shibajia (Eighteen Essayists), 2 volumes, edited by Jia (Baoding: Hebei daxue chubanshe, 2001).
Novelist, short-story writer, essayist, editor, and occasional poet, Jia Pingwa is considered one of a handful of literary masters of contemporary China. He is also among the most commercially successful Chinese authors. Although the treacherous political climate and ideological changes in China over the decades have taken a toll on him at times, Jia has maintained his productivity and literary reputation since he began writing in the 1970s--a feat few of his peers have accomplished. He has been rewarded with many off?icial positions and honorary titles, including chairman of the Shaanxi Writers' Association, member of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, representative of Xi'an on the National People's Congress of the Republic of China, and dean of the College of Humanities at Xi'an University of Architecture and Technology. Jia is also a highly respected calligrapher and painter. Dignitaries in Xi'an and Shaanxi Province collect his calligraphy and his ink-on-paper artworks. The titles on the covers of his later novels are his own calligraphy. Some of his paintings are on display in the Jia Pingwa Museum of Literature and Art in Xi'an.
Jia has written extensively about his approach to writing in the prefaces and postscripts to his novels and short-story collections. He is an ardent advocate of "natural storytelling," the narrative style of classical Chinese works of vernacular fiction such as Xiaoxiaosheng's late Ming dynasty novel Jin ping mei (The Plum in the Golden Vase; translated as The Golden Lotus, 1939) and Cao Xueqin's Honglou meng (1791, The Dream of the Red Chamber; translated as The Story of the Stone, 1973-1986). According to Jia, narratives should have a natural flow from event to event with no apparent forcing by the author and no deploying of trendy techniques, and the language should avoid, as much as possible, traces of Europeanization and Maoist militant expressions. In other words, Jia works with what he thinks are indigenous Chinese narrative strategies. In spite of his emphasis on naturalness, he is praised by critics for the beauty of his language.
Jia was born on 21 February 1952 in the village of Dihua (Cherry Blossom) in Shangzhou prefecture in southern Shaanxi Province. He was the eldest of the four children of Jia Yanchun, a teacher who was often assigned to schools away from the village, and Zhou Xiaoe. During the turmoil of the 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution Jia Pingwa was unable to finish high school, but he received private instruction at home. In 1971 the Chinese Communist Party began selecting students from villages, factories, and the army to attend universities, and Jia's family managed to get him admitted to the Chinese Department of Northwestern University in the provincial capital, Xi'an. He was an extremely diligent student. In 1972 his first published story, "Yi shuang wazi" (A Pair of Socks), coauthored with a classmate, Feng Youyuan, appeared in the local newspaper, the Xi'an ribao (Xi'an Daily).
Jia graduated in 1975. Government policy at the time required unemployed university graduates to return to the locations of their original recruitment. Thus, if Jia could not find a job in Xi'an, he would have to go back to his village and face a future as a peasant working on the land. His literary talent and hard work at the university paid off, however, when he was recruited as an assistant editor by the Shaanxi renmin publishing house.
Jia's career began at the height of the Cultural Revolution, when socialist realism and revolutionary romanticism were the only literary styles allowed, and all creative writings had to be about heroes of the socialist revolution. Jia mainly wrote short stories about precocious children or teenagers participating in revolutionary activities. His first book, the story collection Bingwa (1977, Soldier Boy), published by the prestigious Zhongguo shaonian ertong chubanshe (National Children's Book Publishing Company) in Beijing, was a major success. In the short-story collection Shandi biji (1980, Notes from the Highlands) he found his own voice, becoming known for his refreshingly natural language and style. The book is one of the earliest examples of the genre of "roots-seeking" literature. In 1982 he left his editorial position and became a full-time writer.
Between 1983 and 1992 Jia took advantage of the loosening of ideological control of art and literature by the state to explore village traditions and sexual tensions--new territories for Chinese writers. He published more than two dozen novellas during this period, including "Jiwowade renjia" (1984, The Household at the Chicken Roost Gully) and "Tiangou" (1986, The Heavenly Hound), that won national prizes and are still considered his "signature" writings by many critics both in and outside of China.
The setting of Jia's fiction before 1993 was invariably his home village or the surrounding area. In his first novel, Shangzhou (1987), a city boy named Liu Cheng is a fugitive from the police as the result of some trumped-up charges. He escapes to Shangzhou's mountains, and his constant dodging of the police takes him and the reader to the most scenic spots in the area, including the roaring Shangzhou River and the spectacular peaks of Mt. Hua. Shangzhou returns to the Chinese narrative tradition of event-based zhanghui xiaoshuo (episodes), which allows for "natural pauses" in the plot. As in classical Chinese vernacular fiction, the narrator remains an outsider and reserves the right to comment on the events. Shangzhou begins the recurrent theme in Jia's works of a righteous civilian in conflict with the police.
Shangzhou explores local cultural traditions and folklore--a feature that is also present in Jia's essay collection Shangzhou sanlu (1988, Three Records of Shangzhou), which was written more or less concomitantly with the novel. According to Jia, an important characteristic of indigenous Chinese narrative strategies is not to be too strict about genre boundaries: whether a piece of writing is fiction or essay is not important to him. Shangzhou sanlu is a perfect example in this regard, as it has been viewed both as fiction and nonfiction by various editors. The work won prizes for best prose essays.
The establishment of Jia's reputation as a leading writer in China had a great deal to do with the national and international success of his second novel, Fuzao (1988; translated as Turbulence, 1991). The title, which refers to turbulence both in the mind and in the external world, became the catchphrase of the year because it captured the mood of the nation at a time when economic reform was opening up opportunities for the entire society. In the rural sector, peasants were given their own land and the freedom to create wealth for themselves and their families. The hero of Fuzao, Jingou (Golden Dog), returns to his village from service in the army with a modern education and exposure to the wider world. He and other young people in the village want to get rich, but the village authorities want to maintain their monopoly on exporting the local produce to the capital city. Golden Dog is falsely accused of criminal activities and goes to prison, and one of his friends is murdered. Fuzao is not just about a mountain village in Shaanxi but also about the transition China was experiencing at the time. The novel earned Jia the 1991 Pegasus Prize for Literature from the Mobil Corporation (today Exxon Mobil), which includes a cash award, translation of the work into English, and publication by Louisiana State University Press.
Jia's third novel, Renshen (1989, Pregnancy), comprises five stories about the customs and cultural traditions of the mountain villages of southern Shaanxi that were originally published individually in magazines and can be read independently; they were, however, conceived as a coherent entity, and they form chapters in the novel. The stories are folklore, and Jia has removed from them any trace of the political ideology or literary fashions of the 1980s. The title of the book is derived from a conversation Jia had with a woman who told him about the mixture of pain and pleasure she felt when she was pregnant. Jia saw an analogy with the pain and pleasure of writing.
Renshen; guangshan (1992, Pregnancy; Rambling in the Mountains) consists of four "bandit stories" about outlaws in the southern Shaanxi mountains. The time frame of the narratives is deliberately kept vague, so that politics can be removed. Jia is putting into practice his conviction that Chinese writers should tell Chinese stories in a language unadulterated by European influences and Maoist discourse.
Feidu (1993, Capital in Ruins) remains Jia's best-known and most critically assessed work both in China and abroad, despite the award-winning novels he published subsequently. The protagonist, Zhuang Zhidie, lives in "Xijing," a fictionalized version of Xi'an. He is at the height of his fame as a novelist but is having a midlife crisis. He has writer's block and spends his days wandering around on his motorbike. His marriage is not going well: his wife desperately wants to get pregnant, but he suffers from impotence. Nevertheless, he is enormously attractive to women because of his reputation. In his quest to rediscover himself and to reestablish his masculinity, he has sexual relationships with many women; Tang Wan'r is the one who helps him regain his potency. Zhuang is dragged into a libel suit when an ambitious young writer, Zhou Min, publishes a story loosely based on Zhuang's romantic association with Jing Xueyin, whom he dated when he first moved to the city and who is now a powerful figure in Xijing's literary circles. Jing does not believe that Zhuang was ignorant of Zhou's plans to publish the work, and she successfully sues both of them. The story ends with Zhuang renouncing his identity as a writer and walking out of his marriage. He boards a train heading south, suffers a stroke on the seat, and falls unconscious.
The novel has an allegorical aspect: the surnames of the two writers allude to the ancient Chinese philosopher Zhuang Zhou, who famously dreamed that he was a dancing butterfly; the name Zhuang Zhidie means "Zhuang's butterfly." Also, Zhou Min is Zhuang Zhidie's alter ego: Zhou writes the story that brings about Zhuang's downfall, and both men are involved with Tang Wan'r.
Jia's explicit description of Zhuang's sexual exploits was the major factor in the huge popularity of the novel, which sold half a million copies in the six months before it was banned by the government. The publisher was heavily fined. Although Jia suffered no legal punishment, critics ruthlessly attacked him and the work. Many equated Zhuang Zhidie with Jia, attributing Zhuang's psychological problems and promiscuity to the author. The initial positive critical response to the book in China was quickly silenced by the attacks, but the French translation won the Prix Femina in France in 1997. The ban was lifted in 2009, and the novel was republished with prefaces by the prominent literary critics Li Jingze, Chen Xiaoming, and Xie Youshun, who provide not only a reassessment of the book and the major character, Zhuang Zhidie, but also a thorough reappraisal of Jia's literary career. In regard to the book, their common view is that Zhuang's loss of self-confidence captures the difficulties Chinese intellectuals experienced in repositioning themselves when China's economic reforms went into full swing at the beginning of the 1990s.
Baiye (1995, White Night) came out in the shadow of Feidu, when critics and general readers had abandoned Jia; it attracted little attention from the media and remains the least studied of all his novels. But Baiye is an important departure for Jia. Lai Daren regards it as the sister publication of Feidu for its narrative style and its continuing exploration of Xijing's cultural landscape. Baiye brings out aspects of the city's urban culture that the former work did not cover, especially performance art and music. The choice of the qin (Chinese seven-string zither) and mulianxi (a type of village-ghost opera) as the focal points of the work shows the author's interest in both high and popular culture.
This cultural-ethnographic exploration is achieved through mapping the difficult personal journey of the central character, Ye Lang, a young man from the countryside who lives in Xijing without a residential permit or fixed occupation. Ye's daily life in the city is a constant battle with the authorities and with the urban bias against country people as he tries to establish himself in Xijing. He joins a troupe that performs the ghost opera, and he himself becomes something of a ghost as he develops insomnia and begins sleepwalking. He personifies one of Jia's favored character types: the idlers who do not follow set paths and are inherently subversive of authoritarian controls. Despite his humble social status, his talent and personality appeal to the beautiful and elegant Yu Bai. Yu's family's wealth enables her to pursue her artistic and cultural interests, which include playing the qin. (The two characters' names form the title of the book: ye means "night," and bai means "white.") Through the nexus of Ye Lang and Yu Bai the narrative ventures into all corners of Xijing to discover its subcultures and urban myths.
Jia holds strong views about China's rural policy and about urban bias against country folk. He believes that China's recent economic miracle is built on the sacrifices imposed on the villagers by the government; that the achievements of Chinese civilization are deeply rooted in the countryside; and that many cultural practices that the cities have lost are being kept alive in the country. His novel Tumen (1996, Earth Gate) dramatizes these views by means of a detailed account of a rapidly expanding city that ruthlessly swallows up the surrounding villages, taking the villagers' land and destroying their livelihoods. But Renhoucun (The Village of Benevolence), on the outskirts of Xijing, battles heroically against the city. The four major characters in the novel are stereotypes. Grandpa Yunlin is the village sage, whose wisdom, traditional medical knowledge, and supernatural powers enable the community to operate a clinic that cures patients with liver disease. The village head, Chengyi, is in his early thirties and possesses superb martial-arts skills; like many of Jia's young male heroes, he is courageous, righteous, and willing to sacrifice everything for the common good; he is also a bit of a hooligan and eager to take on the authorities. Meimei is the heiress of a gentry family and the best-educated person in the village. She shares Chengyi's idealism and acts as his adviser. Meizi, the most attractive woman in the village, marries a salesman from the city, and he helps her to find a job there. Meizi thus is able to transform herself from a nongcunren (country person) into a chengshiren (city person), for which she is despised as a traitor by the other villagers. With these simplified characters as the core of the story, Tumen focuses on the development of events; in this sense it returns to the Chinese narrative tradition. In the end the city wins, and the village is demolished. Chengyi is executed by the authorities as a criminal, but he is remembered as a hero by his fellow villagers.
If Tumen represents the loss of the native place to the evil city, Jia's two subsequent novels deal with its degeneration from within. In Gaolao zhuang (1996, Old Gao Village) the environment is so polluted that more and more people are suffering from cancer, and children are born with congenital defects; each generation is shorter than the previous one. Also, a nearby floorboard factory is clear-cutting the surrounding forest with the support of the authorities. To many villagers, the misfortunes stem from the loss of the village's feng shui when its pagoda was destroyed in a storm. Cai Laohei organizes the villagers to rebuild the pagoda, which takes away the factory's workforce. The authorities arrest and jail Cai.
The story is told through the eyes of two outsiders. Gao Zilu is a linguist who has returned to his home village for the third anniversary of his father's death and to study the evolution of the Chinese language. His wife, Xixia, is an artist and is doing research into premodern visual art for the provincial museum. The name of the village alludes to the hometown of the Zhu Bajie (Pigsy) in the vernacular classical novel Xiyouji (translated as The Journey to the West, 1977-1983), written by Wu Cheng'en in the sixteenth century. Jia thus reinforces his idea that the rural village can only be understood and appreciated in the context of the most refined aspects of Chinese cultural tradition.
Jia began writing Huainian lang (2000, Remembering Wolves) as soon as he finished Gaolao zhuang. Whether he projected the two novels as sister narratives or not, they have in common a concern with the problems of the community and the environment. Huainian lang focuses on the remaining fifteen wolves in an area of Shangzhou that once sustained a troupe of more than a hundred wolf hunters. Gao Ziming, a photojournalist from the city who is interested in environmental issues, hears about the near extinction of the wolves and visits Shangzhou to report on the condition of the remaining ones. He locates the former head of the hunting troupe, Fu Shan, and another hunter, Lantou (Broken Head), and the three men try to track down the wolves. The novel depicts the wolves' and the hunters' intimate knowledge of each other and the folklore and culture of Shangzhou. But Gao's mission to document the conditions of the wolves in the hope of helping them to survive, an idea of a city-based environmentalist, results in the killing of all of the wolves; and Fu Shan, the professional hunter, transforms himself into a wolf and frightens his fellow villagers.
Bingxiang baogao (2002, Health Reports) represents a detour in Jia's writing career. It does not have much in common with his other novels: the setting is not Shangzhou; it has multiple narrators; it focuses on the impact of politics on the lives of individuals; and many of the characters are urban dwellers. It is also Jia's only "revolutionary" story: the protagonist, Hu Fang, is a Communist. He suffers greatly during the political and ideological reverses that occur before and after the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949. He and a woman named Jiang Lan are lovers in the 1940s, but war and politics separate them until the reform era in the 1980s. Their reunion is sweet but too short--Hu Fang dies of a stroke a few months after they find each other again.
The novel is experimental in structure. The protagonist is observed from various angles by his lover, friends, relatives, and wives; his own voice is never heard by the reader, but his life is traced retrospectively by those who have come into contact with him. Hu has been connected to people from all walks of life and from Beijing to Chengdu and from Shaanxi to Qinghai. In this respect, Bingxiang baogao is ambitious in scope. Jia does not usually confront politics straightforwardly. This novel, however, is bold in exposing the damage the Chinese Communist Party's ideology and policies inflict on people from all class backgrounds, including those who are loyal to the Communist cause. The title of the work refers to the sickness of Chinese society under Communism.
The monumental novel Qinqiang (2005, The Shaanxi Local Opera), more than five hundred pages in length, details the lives of the residents of the village of Qingfeng zhen (Clear Wind Town) in the 1990s and early 2000s from the viewpoint of Yinsheng, a young man with mental problems and a connection to supernatural forces. Two families, interrelated by marriage, have dominated the politics of the village for generations: the Bais had the upper hand before the Communist takeover, but the Xias are in control now. An important aspect of village life is Shaanxi's local opera, Qinqiang. Xia Tianzhi has an encyclopedic knowledge of the opera; his daughter-in-law, Bai Xue, the village beauty, is the star singer in Qinqiang. Music from Qinqiang always hovers over the village, as Xia Tianzhi plays it on a loudspeaker. The villagers sing a lyric or two when certain situations arise and use lines from the play catchphrases. But the decline of Qinqiang is inevitable in the age of globalization and mass popular culture. When the county Qinqiang troupe loses its funding, the performers are forced to become entertainers at weddings and funerals. Likewise, village life is becoming unsustainable. Most of the households are in debt, and there is a shortage of food. Work on the land no longer attracts the younger generation, and they leave one by one to find work in the city. Qingqiang won two of the most prestigious literary awards in the Chinese-speaking world: the first Hongloumeng Prize for a Chinese novel, administered by Hong Kong Baptist University, in 2006, and the seventh Mao Dun Literary Prize, administered by the Chinese Writers' Association, in 2008.
Two years after Qinqiang, Jia published Gaoxing (Happiness). The novel follows the villagers Gaoxing and Wufu when they go to the city to look for work. The only employment they can find is trash collection, and they live a Spartan existence to save money from their meager wages. Gaoxing is a critical documentary about how peasants struggle to survive as second-class citizens in the city. Jia believes that China's economic growth since 1980 has been achieved largely through enormous sacrifices imposed on nongmin (peasants) by the state. In the rapid process of urbanization the lives of most nongmin entail displacement, separation, and despair. Gaoxing and Wufu are realistic embodiments of the conditions Chinese peasants experience.
Gulu (2010, Ancient Kiln) is an epic work on the scale of Qinqiang. The story is set in a village in Shaanxi and is narrated by a boy in his early teens who has been given the demeaning nickname "Gouniaotai" (dog pissing on the moss). Like many of Jia's major characters, such as Jin Gou in Fuzao, Ye Lang in Baiye, and Yinsheng in Qinqiang, he is an orphan; also, like Ye Lang and Yinsheng, Gouniaotai has a connection with the supernatural: he is able to "smell" ominous events approaching. Since he is a child, his perspective is not totally reliable; but the way other people treat him says a great deal about them. Gulu is unlike other novels set during the Cultural Revolution, which focus primarily on political turmoil and brutality; instead, it treats the period as being like any other time in history, when the villagers' priority is the problems of daily life. In fact, the Communist Party secretary of the village does not even know that such momentous events have begun until some Red Guard youths arrive to make trouble and recruit members. The everydayness of village life and the deeply rooted cultural traditions remain the same, while the political storms come and go. There will, of course, always be restless young men looking for excitement. Hence, the political engagement of the Red Guards is characterized as a release of hormonal pressure. The power of the story lies in the daily negotiations between what the higher authorities want and the villagers' daily pursuit of survival under poor conditions.
At Jia's request, the publisher printed the English word China in capital letters on the front and back covers of Gulu. The author declares in the postscript: "On the surface, the book is about the village called Ancient Kiln, but my thoughts are actually about China. I also called the mountain Zhongshan, namely, the Central Mountain, for the same reason that all is meant to represent China."
Jia Pingwa has been married twice. His first marriage came to an end at the height of the storm caused by the publication of Feidu. He remarried in the late 1990s. He has two daughters from each marriage.
FURTHER READINGS ABOUT THE AUTHOR
- Lai Daren, Hun gui he chu: Jia Pingwa lun (Beijing: Huaxia chubanshe, 2000).
- Carlos Rojas, "Flies' Eyes, Mural Remnants, and Jia Pingwa's Perverse Nostalgia," positions: east asia cultures critique, 14 (Winter 2006): 749-773.
- Yiyan Wang, Narrating China: Jia Pingwa and His Fictional World (London: Routledge, 2006).