LI HANGYU (1957— )
LI HANGYU (1957— ). Fiction writer. A Hangzhou native, Li Hangyu is known as one of the pioneers of root-seeking literature. His article “Liyili women de gen” (Sorting Out our Roots), along with those by Ah Cheng, Han Shaogong, Zheng Yi, and Zheng Wanlong, all published in 1985, advocated a literature that sought inspiration in the nation’s ancient past. In the 1980s, he was famous for his root-seeking stories about the customs and cultures along the Qiantang River, fictionalized as the Gechuan River, which runs in the vicinity of his native Hangzhou. The stories in his Gechuan River series including “Gechuanjiang shang renjia” (A Family on the Gechuan River), “Zuihou yige yulao’r, (The Last Angler), and “Shazao yifeng” (The Relics of Shazao) are set against the background of the economic reform era but reach back to the ancient history and customs unique to this region. Of particular importance is “Zuihou yige yulao’r,” which portrays a man alienated and marginalized by society but determined to stick to the old ways. Coming from a tradition that has existed for generations in the area, Fukui, the last fisherman, rejects modernization and the lifestyles it represents. As factories dump pollutants into the river, fish die, and the fishermen who rely on the river begin to lose their livelihood. The others find ways to adapt to changing times by farm-raising fish or working for the factories, but Fukui refuses, despite being ridiculed by his fellow villagers. At the end of the story, he floats to the middle of the river in his small boat, content in the thought that he will die in the embrace of the river he calls his “mistress.” He is the last witness to a once beautiful and plentiful river, a world in which man and nature coexisted in harmony. Underneath Li’s descriptions of the local customs and traditions is a dirge for a bygone era forever lost to the irresistible and crushing forces of modernity. In his Gechuan River stories, Li finds the soul of the river culture in its spirit of wandering and unrestrained flow. He uses symbolism and myths as well as the vernacular language of the area to capture that spirit. Li has devoted his entire career to creating a tableau of the way of life along the Qiantang River of Zhengjiang, including his most recent prose work on the history and customs of the city of Hangzhou.