Revolutionary Literature in China: An Anthology

By John David Berninghausen; Ted Huters | Go to book overview

Introduction to Zhang Tian-yi's "Hatred"
Zhang Tian-yi ( 1907- ) was one of the most popular and prolific authors of China's revolutionary literature during the 1930s. From 1928 to 1959 he wrote over a hundred works; aside from the 90 or more short stories, he produced a few novels, plays and some juvenile fiction. The decade from 1928 to 1938 was his most productive period; tuberculosis kept him from writing during the next decade; after Liberation in 1949 he devoted himself to works for children. In 1957 he became chief editor of the monthly Renmin Wenxue (People's Literature).In the general view of China's critics, Zhang Tian-yi's early fiction burst upon the scene like a bombshell. Just as it was appearing in 1928, two major types of story popular in the Twenties were losing their readership: one was the sloganeering fiction full of purely verbal enthusiasm for revolution, which had permeated literary circles since the May Fourth Movement; the other was the formulaic fiction of love-and-revolution already recognized as a cliche. In the first decade of his career, Zhang Tian-yi's stories have five major concerns:
a satire on the faddish May Fourth literary styles and intellectuals in general--their superficial zeal for revolution, their wavering, egotism and melancholy, their trivial love affairs and empty lives;
satiric treatment of social climbers in city and village;
exposure of the structure of rural exploitation with its combination of landlords, loansharks, strongarm men, clan system and religion;
sympathetic portrayal of unvarnished lower-class life, in which the victimized protagonists are positive figures--rural hired hands, soldiers, the urban unemployed, beggars, orphans, apprentices, prostitutes;
vivid depiction of the development of class consciousness and consequent rebellion among the oppressed.

The historical period spanned by these stories, roughly 1911 to 1938, reflects the China of the bourgeois revolution, the May Fourth Movement, the period of conflict among warlords, the Northern Expedition and the war against Japan. His depiction of rural and urban social relations focuses on class struggle. In other words, Zhang Tian-yi's earlier fiction deals with the times in which he lived, particularly the immediate past. His work was noted for its linguistic innovations. Zhang Tian-yi went further than most May Fourth writers in rejecting the Westernized Chinese that had passed for the literary vernacular since the early Twenties. He brought the language of workers, soldiers and peasants into fiction and used it with a skill unsurpassed by his contemporaries.

"Hatred," first published in Xiandai (Modern Times) 2:1 ( 1932), is an example of the victim theme and represents the first appearance of peasant figures in Zhang Tian-yi's fiction. Though shocking, the story is a fair reflection of the horrors of interminable civil wars among the warlords, and of the immense if undirected popular rage against social conditions. One of this story's distinctive features is the use of collective characters--the protagonists are groups rather than individuals. The narrative makes extensive use of represented discourse: setting, for example, presented by the narrator, is always described in terms of the peasants' perception of it. Such a narrative mode is a characteristic of modern fiction.

This translation has been made from Qiren Ji (The Eccentrics), a collection published in Shanghai in 1945 by Liangyou Tushu Gongsi. A French translation, "Haine," can be found in Martine Vallette-Hémery, De la révolution littéraire à la littérature révolutionnaire ( Paris, 1970).

Shu-ying Tsau

-62-

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