Magazine article Chinese Literature Today

The Age of Enlightenment

Magazine article Chinese Literature Today

The Age of Enlightenment

Article excerpt

Wang Anyi. The Age of Enlightenment. Fiction. Beijing. The People's Literature Publishing House. 2007. ix + 312 pages. 20 RMB. ISBN 702006035

Not unlike Wang Anyi's A Middle School Student in 1969, The Song of Everlasting Sorrow, and Blooming Peach Blossoms, The Age of Enlightenment is also teen fiction. While the former three titles record the life stories of teenage girls, the latter seeks to write "a story about thought" under the original title The Thinker, which was later changed to The Age of Enlightenment. In the eyes of Wang Anyi, the essence of deep thought is feminine, though it is generally presented in masculine form. Compared with her writings about teenage girls, this story about a young male thinker is unbelievably trivial and transient, as if enlightenment comes to a halt the moment the novel begins.

In this story, the age of enlightenment is a specific period, spanning 1968 to the beginning of 1969. This special period is set against a significant historical backdrop, a short and quiet interval between two political youth movements associated with the Cultural Revolution-the Red Guard movement and the reeducation movement, in which young people were sent to the countryside to learn from the peasants. It is not without challenge to describe teenage growth during this extraordinary time, which is always interpreted by older modern literature as an age of ignorance rather than an age of enlightenment. However, for Wang Anyi, a daughter of the New China-as well as for other left-wing warriors worldwide- the year 1968 was indeed an age of enlightenment. It is during this time that young people came to play a central role in revolution, began to find their own way, and matured into adults of independent spirit and free will. They are the daughters and sons of the revolution.

The hero of the story is Nanchang, whose spiritual growth and enlightenment constitutes the main theme of the novel. His story is interwoven with a diverse array of idiosyncratic characters. Chen Zhuoran, a young man immersed in reading, thinking, and the pleasure of theoretical inquiry, initiates the first stage of his enlightenment. Chen often talks with Nanchang about the grand ideals of China's revolution, but their ideas are found to be conceptual exercises lacking empirical experience. …

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