In contrast to the utopian official literature of Communist China, the stories in this wide-ranging collection marshal wry humor, entangled sex, urban alienation, nasty village politics and frequent violence. Translated ably enough to keep up with the colloquial tone, most tales are told with straightforward familiarity, drawing readers into small communities and personal histories that are anything but heroic. 'The Brothers Shu,' by Su Tong (Raise the Red Lantern), is an urban tale of young lust and sibling rivalry in a sordid neighborhood around the ironically named Fragrant Cedar Street. That story's earthiness is matched by Wang Xiangfu's folksy 'Fritter Hollow Chronicles,' about peasants' vendettas and local politics, and by 'The Cure,' by Mo Yan (Red Sorghum; The Garlic Ballads), which details the fringe benefits of an execution. Personal alienation and disaffection are as likely to appear in stories with rural settings (Li Rui's 'Sham Marriage') as they are to poison the lives of urban characters (Chen Cun's 'Footsteps on the Roof'). Comedy takes an elegant and elaborate form in 'A String of Choices,' Wang Meng's tale of a toothache cure, and it assumes the burlesque of small-town propaganda fodder in Li Xiao's 'Grass on the Rooftop.' Editor Goldblatt has chosen not to expand the contributors' biographies or elaborate on the collection's post-Tiananmen context. He lets the stories speak for themselves, which, fortunately, they do, quietly and effectively.
From Library Journal
The 20 authors represented here range from Wang Meng, the former minister of culture, to Su Tong, whose Raise the Red Lantern has been immortalized on screen.
Chinese literature has changed drastically in the past thirty years. During the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) arts and literature of all sorts were virtually nonexistent since they were frowned upon by official powers so that attempts to produce any were apt to cause one s public humiliation and possibly even death by the Red Guards and other unofficial arms of the government. After 1976, in the wake of Mao s death, literature slowly regained its importance in China, and by the mid-1980s dark, angry, satirical writings had become quite prominent on the mainland.
In the wake of Tiananmen Square, dark literature faded somewhat, but never vanished. Now Howard Goldblatt, a prominent translator of Chinese fiction and editor of the critical magazine Modern Chinese Literature, has compiled a representative collection of contemporary Chinese fiction entitled Chairman Mao Would Not Be Amused. Even with my limited knowledge of modern China I feel certain the title of the book is fairly accurate.
Mo Yan is one of my favorite contemporary writers. His dark, no-holds-barred satires Red Sorghum and The Garlic Ballads detailed what he sees as the failings of both Chinese peasants (of which he was born as one) and the Chinese leaders. His short story 'The Cure' is in the same vein, detailing how a local government representative-probably self-appointed during the Cultural Revolution, although that is never made quite clear in the story-leads a lynching of the village s two most prominent leaders and their wives. But, as in most Mo Yan stories, the bitterness directed at the lyncher is double-edged with the bitter look at a local peasant who sees the deaths of the two village leaders as a desperate chance to possibly rescue his mother from impending blindness. The story is coldly realistic and totally chilling in the rational way it treats the series of events.
Su Tong is the author of the novella 'Raise The Red Lantern', the basis of the wonderful movie. His 'The Brothers Shu' is a bitter look at some traditional character weaknesses of Chinese people, and particularly how they affect family life. The Shu family is incredibly dysfunctional. The father nightly climbs up the side of his two-family house to have sex with the woman upstairs until her husband bolts her win