Magazine article Chinese Literature Today

Contemporary Chinese Short-Short Stories: A Parallel Text

Magazine article Chinese Literature Today

Contemporary Chinese Short-Short Stories: A Parallel Text

Article excerpt

Contemporary Chinese Short-Short Stories: A Parallel Text. Aili Mu and Mike Smith trans. and ed. Nonfiction. New York. Columbia University Press. 2017. 484 pages. $40.00 USD. ISBN 9780231181532

Aili Mu's collaboration with Mike Smith, Contemporary Chinese ShortShort Stories: A Parallel Text offers a timely practical resource for Chinese language learners and instructors. By representing Chinese culture and language in the form of contemporary short-short stories and presenting parallel Chinese and English versions of the texts, it aims not only to improve language proficiency but also to meet the language learners' expectations of being both entertaining and culturally instructive.

Rather than treating language and culture as separate entities, the book condenses the complexity of Chinese culture and philosophical wisdom into a selection of stories by contemporary Chinese writers. These stories are organized around nine central concepts in Chinese culture: li (ritual or propriety) and ren (humanity or benevolence), xiao (being filial), yin-yang, zhi (governance), shenfen (identity), lianmian (the importance of face), qing'ai (romantic love), hunyin (marriage), and yi (chang). Although these concepts are abstract and carry various nuances of meaning, they are introduced in an accessible and engaging way. The first pair of concepts, li and ren, are investigated through the lens of traditional Confucian ethics manifested in the everyday lives of contemporary Chinese people. Chapter Two presents xiao not as much as a generalization of respecting the old and taking care of the young, but as a subtle thread that connects different family members. Each of the four stories in this chapter, representing different aspects of xiao, illustrates the consequences of neglecting love between parents and children or husbands and wives. Yinyang is demonstrated in three stories about love, whose female protagonists exemplify the paradoxical balance between love and letting go. The stories representing zhi open windows into the complicated system of Chinese governance, showcasing the philosophy of governance at the local level and how Chinese people are involved with the local government. Of the four stories illustrating the concept of shenfen, roughly translated as identity, "Auntie" follows the desire of women in a patriarchal rural community to pursue their own sense of identity; "Brothers" questions the meaning of constructing a distinct self-identity while "Water in the Well" exemplifies the construction of individual identity based on faith in human ability; and "The Love of Her Life" is a sad love story about the confusion of the essence of identity. …

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