The Dusk of Earth: The Micro-Power Analysis of Chinese Village Experience (Rev. Ed.)

By Nianchang, Zeng | Chinese Literature Today, January 1, 2014 | Go to article overview

The Dusk of Earth: The Micro-Power Analysis of Chinese Village Experience (Rev. Ed.)


Nianchang, Zeng, Chinese Literature Today


Zhang Ning. The Dusk of Earth: The Micro-Power Analysis of Chinese Village Experience (rev. ed.). Nonfiction. Beijing. Zhongguo renmin daxue chubanshe. 2013. 316 pages. 55 RMB. ISBN 9787300171838

This is a book about experiences. We can call the experiences it endeavors to depict "dusk experiences." In succinct language, author Zhang Ning describes the unique structure of these experiences in the preface of the book: dusk is the intersection of light and darkness, life and death, movement and stillness. It is an ordinary yet unique experience to every reader. Ordinary, because it is a mundane experience, a natural phenomenon associated with the everyday human life; unique, because it is a marginal experience that implies liminality and transition. In my opinion, the connotation of "dusk" is key to understanding this book. "Dusk" indicates liminality and transitionality. It is precisely this marginality, transitoriness, and evanescence that propel the author to materialize these "dusk experiences" with his pen. But the author is not a scientist, nor is the book a scientific work about dusk. The author is concerned with the anthropological aspect of dusk experiences, or the social construction of dusk. It exists in the intersection between traditional rural culture and modern urban civilization, the latter quietly changing and engulfing the former. It is precisely these evanescent dusk experiences-brought about by the urbanization of rural areas-that the book aims to convey.

Zhang Ning believes that China is immersed in dusk experiences. The cosmological and industrious rural world is gradually disappearing behind the horizon of Chinese modern civilization, just like the ancient earth disappears in the dim light of the dusk.

It is a book fraught with emotion and reason. The delicate interweaving of these two qualities represents the author's bold experiment, and is the most acclaimed feature of this book. Whereas the village life experience in China as a whole is rapidly disappearing in the dusk, the village of Ganbei, where the author spent nineteen years, is still bathed in the twilight of rural culture. It is this twilight that gives the author vivid memories, exempting him from doing a field investigation like a visitor who tries to gain some unfamiliar experiences. These direct experiences closely associated with the author's own life can be palpably felt throughout the book, almost as an active participant in writing about dusk experiences.

Such writing is risky and difficult for a scholarly work, because individual experiences are always fragmented and chaotic while scholarly works must create models to encompass and coordinate these experiences. In other words, the book starts with experiences but is not only about them. …

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