LI PEIFU (1953— )
LI PEIFU (1953— ). Novelist. Born in Henan, Li Peifu began his literary career in the late 1970s. He has written extensively about China’s northern countryside with its strong adherence to traditions and its persistent struggle to leave behind the poverty that has plagued the lives of its peasants for generations. Having lived in rural communities, Li understands the nature and the soul of the Chinese peasantry and his portrayals of country life are both realistic and profound. Yang de men (The Gate of Sheep), a novel banned by the government shortly after its release, paints a dark picture of what it is like when an agrarian community achieves economic prosperity. The book’s negative portrayal of Chinese traditional society echoes the iconoclastic stance voiced in the works by Lu Xun and Ba Jin. The return to the critical tradition of the May Fourth Movement registers a revolt against the socialist realism of the Mao era, which glorified the peasants as enlightened revolutionaries. In Yang de men, Li’s Hujia Bao is a village controlled by one man, who rules his charges like “God watching over His flock,” as the title suggests. On the surface, Hujia Bao is a Communist utopia, with no exploitation, no corruption, and no poverty. Underneath the blissful surface, however, is the reality of the authoritarianism of the village head, who does not hesitate to crush the slightest sign of defection and whose political network built through decades of painstaking cultivation reaches all the way from his village to the capital. The novel portrays the villagers as well-fed, subservient sheep and the various levels of government officials as greedy wolves who use their positions only to serve their personal interest. Also concerning the countryside, Lishi jiazu (The Li Clan) is a saga that chronicles the rise and fall of a large clan.
With the same focus on how power operates in society, Li has shed light on life in urban China. His novel Chengshi baipishu (White Paper on a City) is told from the perspective of a mad girl whose unusually acute senses allow her to uncover the absurdities and the lack of spiritual anchor of modern city life. Additionally, Cheng de deng (City Lights) depicts the arduous journey of country youths on the way to becoming urbanites. A more recent novel, Dengdeng linghun (Wait for the Soul), deals with the ruthless competitions within the business world and how power corrupts humanity. It portrays a businessman whose success and downfall are brought about by his personal ambition and hunger for power. A prolific writer primarily interested in portraying the nature of power in society, Li has written several volumes of novellas and short stories in addition to these influential novels.