Click on the image to go to the English version of Murong Xuecun‘s text.
I like Murong Xuecun‘s recent essay (or speech) The Water in Autumn And The Unending Sky very much. He quotes Lu Xun, very aptly. All the quotations are apt, within the text, of course. This kind of essay very easily gets misunderstood as a mere pamphlet. It is a pamphlet. It is meant as a very sharp critique. But just like Lu Xun’s non-fiction pieces, this one is also meant to be read and listened to very carefully.
The Republican era in the decades before 1949 was roundly condemned for its society and government by many writers. Its downfall was expected, and there was so much contempt, in retrospective, that it seemed the new era after 1949 had to be something better, simply because the war and the state of China before had been such disasters. The Chinese writers and commentators of the Late Qing and Republican eras very often understood themselves as patriots, especially in their most acerbic writings. Lu Xun is the most famous example.
I’m not interested in whether Murong Xuecun could write as well or could become as famous as some Republican writers. He is one among many present writers who are publicly critical of the PRC government. Many of the most critical ones are mostly or permanently abroad. I don’t know if Murong Xuecun can continue to live mostly in China. He is certainly more consequent than Han Han, for example. I don’t know what exactly has driven Murong Xuecun to non-fiction. Seems it has been a gradual process.
The present state and the more or less contemporary history of the PRC have been described and inscribed very starkly by many writers ever since the late 1970s, basically by almost everybody in the world of letters, whether or not they still go through the motions of hand-copying Mao’s totalitarian directives in 2012, as some of the most famous have done.
The Republican era was roundly condemned, in fiction and non-fiction. On the other hand, some people see it as an era of freedom, in retrospect. Both could be justified, it seems. Liu Zhenyun, who could be seen as just another member of the establishment and as a non-serious TV- and popular movie-collaborator, is actually very eager to mention the famine of around 1960 in his works. Remember 1942, Liu’s non-fiction story from 1992, has just been filmed. The story is about remembering a local famine that occurred in 1942. It was a terrible year around the globe. The Holocaust in Europe was coming into full swing. War was raging in many places. Total war was going to be proclaimed. 1942 is a year that has received a lot of historical attention. But the context of Chiang Kaishek’s and his government’s decisions about the famine in Henan is not very widely discussed. Liu Zhenyun manages to combine the Republican era and the PRC in a piece of stunning critique of both. The PRC part is mostly implied, but it works. I don’t know how or if this works in the film as well. Anyway the film, wherever it will be shown, will make some people want to dig out the text.
Liu Zhenyun, Murong Xuecun and Yu Hua have something in common in their tone. They are very close to the common people, aside from some stylistic differences. Yu Hua has only recently become well known for his non-fiction, which is not published in the PRC, but available on the internet. Maybe Murong Xuecun will turn to fiction again, and maybe he will continue to live in Mainland China. Doesn’t look like it at the moment, but it seems more feasible than, say, Liao Yiwu returning to China.
Murong Xuecun, Liu Zhenyun and Yu Hua are very conversational in their non-fiction. These pieces are written for popular appeal. They could be seen as very patriotic, in a way. Many very popular works in other languages are patriotic, like Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol. Non-fiction in Chinese won’t become quite as world-famous, but it has come a long way in the last few years.
Murong Xuecun‘s text is a speech held in Hong Kong. There is a lot of classical Chinese at the end, although it is still very clear. The fragile heart sounds very 19th century to a Western reader. To me, at least. But so what? It’s not Wordsworth or Blake or one of the Shelleys, but it’s going in that direction. There have always been many kinds of writing at one particular time.