BA JIN, A.K.A. PA CHIN, PEN NAME OF LI FEIGAN (1904—2005) - The Dictionary

Chinese Literature - Li-hua Ying 2010

The Dictionary

BA JIN, A.K.A. PA CHIN, PEN NAME OF LI FEIGAN (1904—2005). Novelist and essayist. Ba Jin was one of the most celebrated and prolific writers in modern Chinese literature. He grew up in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, in a large wealthy family. Well versed in the classics, he nevertheless became an enthusiastic participant in the New Culture Movement. An anarchist in his radical days, Ba Jin acquired his pen name from the Chinese transliterations of Mikhail Bakunin and Peter Kropotkin, two 19th-century Russian anarchists. In the late 1920s, while studying French social history in Paris, he began a literary career that would last for more than six decades. Largely known as a fiction writer, Ba Jin was also a translator, a publisher, and an editor and held many political as well as professional titles, such as president of the Chinese Writers’ Association and deputy chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. He was the recipient of the Dante Literature Award (1982) and the Croix de la Légion d’Honneur (1983).

All of Ba Jin’s novels were written in the two decades from the late 1920s to 1947, most notable of which are the trilogies: Jiliu sanbuqu (Trilogy of Torrent) formed by Jia (Family), Chun (Spring), and Qiu (Autumn); Aiqing sanbuqu (Trilogy of Love) consisting of Wu (Fog), Yu (Rain), and Dian (Lightning); and Huo (Fire), also called Kangzhan sanbuqu (Trilogy of the Anti-Japanese War). Other works published during this period include his first novel, Miewang (Destruction) about a depressed young anarchist, and its sequel Xinsheng (New Life), as well as Qi yuan (Garden of Repose), Disi bingshi (Ward Four), and Hanye (Cold Night). The protagonists of Ba Jin’s earlier novels are educated youth caught at the crossroads of tradition and modernity. Jia, generally considered his finest piece, best represents his works written during this period. The novel portrays a family in crisis, with the young generation pitted against the old. The Gao clan mirrors Chinese society, in which children are demanded by centuries of Confucian tradition to obey the figure of authority, be it the patriarch or the emperor. Ba Jin points out in Jia that such a system does nothing but destroy the lives of the young; the only hope for them is to break free from it.

The Chinese youth at the time readily identified with the passionate heroes Ba Jin created. In contrast with the zealous and optimistic worldview expressed in his early works, Ba Jin in the 1940s took a more somber perspective on history, reality, and human nature. Qi yuan and Hanye are good examples to illustrate the change. Free of the hot-blooded, idealistic young rebels who populate his earlier novels, these stories focus on the decline of the old family and the tragic consequences when hope is dashed by the reality of war, poverty, and prejudice.

In the 1950s and early 1960s, Ba Jin wrote some short stories and novellas, a few of which were politically motivated and would later be deemed by the author himself as “waste products.” He suffered a great deal of physical and psychological abuse during the Cultural Revolution. His best-known work in the post-Mao era is the four-volume Suixiang lu (Random Thoughts), a collection of essays and memoirs expressing regrets about the “false and empty words” he had written in exchange for political protection during the Cultural Revolution.