Mo Yan and his cohorts write salacious stories. Graphic. Scatological. The obsessions are making money, having sex, with possessing rather than being
Take this passage from Mo Yan's Red Sorghum, a full throttle yarn about a family's struggles during the Japanese invasion. Granddad Yu is heartbroken after
grandson Douguan's testicle is bitten off by one of the packs of dogs made feral by starvation. Douguan's childhood friend Beauty is encouraged to indulge
in some sex play to see whether his parts are in working order:
"Timidly, she held it in her sweaty hand and felt it gradually get warmer and thicker. It began to throb, just like her heart."
Granddad, elated to see a continuation of the family line, runs out, uttering perhaps the most memorable line in the book: "Single stalk garlic is the
These stories offer another perspective on Chinese obsessions -- in this case, family lineage. (Anyone wondering whether this lineage business is just highly
colored fiction need only scan last week's news about Hong Kong billionaire Cecil Chao, who put out $65 million to a successful suitor for his lesbian
daughter's hand. Talk about Matrimony on A Bounty.)
There is, of course, more to male Chinese writing than Rabelaisian humor and power-crazed protagonists. A particular favorite of mine is the Inspector Chen
series, written by Anthony Award-winner Qiu Xialong. The books detail the adventures of Shanghai poet-policeman Chen Cao and are set in the early 1990s,
when China is beginning its rapid economic climb.
These are gentle stories, filled with melancholy and mouth-wateringly good descriptions of food. Endemic government corruption means Chen rarely gets his
man, even if he solves the case, and his peregrinations bring to mind Donna Leon's Inspector Brunetti, or Alexander McCall Smith's Precious Ramotswe.
For too long, Western perceptions of Chinese have been essentially a female one, brought about to a large extent by the hugely successful writings of
writers ranging from Han Suyin to the two Amys, Tan and Chua, who, though American, draw hugely on their Chinese roots for their stories. They have offered
vivid, touching, and loving portraits of dysfunctional families, of the immigrant experience, of female empowerment. Stories that need a woman's touch.
In The Good Women of China, journalist Xinran Xue describes a visit to a remote part of China where women walk with a strange swagger. She discovers it
is because the women live in a dry region with little forestation, and are forced to use sharp-edged leaves to staunch menstrual bleeding. I doubt a male
writer would have spotted that telling detail.
Of course, these are stories that need to be told. But the surge of stories with tropes of infanticide, abortion and rape reinforce Western perceptions of
the Chinese experience as being overwhelmingly feminine. As victims or objects of desire.