For the #readtheworldchina challenge, the amazing Meonicorn of The Bookish Land has written a guest post about 7 Chinese Books of the past 70 years. I love Meonicorn’s blog and Youtube channel, so definitely go check her out for some amazing content and book recommendations.
7 Chinese Books in Recent 70 Years
By Meonicorn ( The Bookish Land)
Hi, I am Meonicorn from the BookTube channel: The Bookish Land. Thanks a lot to Penny for inviting me to talk about books from China (since I was born and raised in China, I love talking about them). China has a long history of literature but I feel it’s very difficult to find Chinese books that have been translated into English, especially the recent publishes. So I’ve selected 7 Chinese books from the recent 70 years, maybe you’ll find them interesting, and hope we will have more good Chinese books translated into English in the future!
2010 – NOW: FOLDING BEIJING by Hao Jingfang, 2012, Genre: Science Fiction
This Hugo Award-winning novelette was set in an unspecified future when people have been divided into three classes and lived in Beijing accordingly. Beijing cycles every 48 hours, where the first 24 hours belong to the highest class, the next 16 hours belong to the second class and the last 8 hours belong to the rest of the population. The living space for each class was folded when they were not using it and the people were put to asleep, and the space would be unfolded when people could use it. People were forbidden to travel across different space. However, a worker called Lao Dao decided to do so because of his daughter and started his space traveling journey.
This novelette was translated by Ken Liu, who also translated the Hugo Award-winning novel The Three-Body Problem.
2000 – 2009: THE LAST QUARTER OF THE MOON by Chi Zijian, 2005, Genre: Historical Fiction
This was a beautiful family saga about an ethnic group called Evenki, it is told from the perspective of the wife of the last chief in their tribe, following her story for almost 100 years. Their tribe experienced changes from traditional hunting lifestyle to modern culture lifestyle, accepted opportunities and losses, as well as glories and declines. The narrator was also changed by time and generations. The book was beautifully written, the language was poetic, the story was atmospheric and the culture was mysterious.
This novel won the Maodun Literary Prize in 2008. (One of the most important literary prizes in China)
1990 – 1999: TO LIVE by Yu Hua, 1993. Genre: Literary Fiction
To Live discussed the meaning of life with the story of Fugui. Fugui was born in a wealthy family but lost all his fortune by gambling. After that, his life seemed to be a tragedy, his family suffered from the consequences of poverty, he himself had a difficult time living. Whenever there was a warm moment in life, it would be destroyed in the next second.
This book was written when the author was facing some life difficulties, it was a reflection of the author’s life and his attitude towards life.
1980 – 1989 RED SORGHUM by Mo Yan, 1986, Genre: Historical Fiction
Red Sorghum was a multi-generation novel. The story happened in 1930 when World War II happened and China was fighting with Japan. The protagonists were heroes who fought with Japan but knew little about why they fight, who loved deeply but didn’t know what’s love, who contributed to the country but also did illegal business. This book shows the complexities of human nature and the unclearness of moral truth.
This book was one of the most famous books by the Nobel Prize in Literature winner Mo Yan.
1970 – 1979 THE ANSWER by Bei Dao, 1976. Genre: Poetry
The Answer was a poetry collection by Chinese poet Bei Dao, it was also the title of one of his most famous poems. The poem was written after The Cultural Revolution in China ended and people were struggling between confusion and development. It shouted out the question the poet had “The Ice Age is over now/ Why is there ice everywhere? The Cape of Good Hope has been discovered/ Why do a thousand sails contest the Dead Sea?”
1960 – 1969 HALF A LIFELONG ROMANCE by Eileen Chang (Zhang Ailing), 1966. Genre: Literary Fiction
Half a Lifelong Romance is set in Shanghai in the 1930s. It was a love story between engineer Shijun and his colleague Manzhen, where they fall in love but had to separate because of their families. While they are facing their fate, Chinese society was also changing because of World War II. The hope that they may meet again was getting smaller and smaller, but yet they didn’t give up. This was a book about the suffering and sorrows of love, but also about the life in 1930s Shanghai, and how people were played by societal expectations.
This book was originally written in 1948 with the name of The Eighteen Spring, but was edited by the author and re-published as Half a Lifelong Romance in 1966.
1950 – 1959 LEGENDS OF THE CONDOR HEROES by Jin Yong, 1957 – 1959. Genre: Wuxia (Chinese Fantasy).
Legends of the Condor Heroes was a classic Wuxia novel, and it was also a historical fiction. Set between 1199 – 1227, this book followed Guojing’s journey from being a boy who knew nothing about himself and his country to a hero who protected his country and his lover. It has a well-rounded character development and is complex but does not have excess historical background. It was one of the most classic Wuxia fictions, and has been translated into English for the first time in 2018.