LI SHASHA, PEN NAME OF BI LIZI (1982— ) - The Dictionary

Chinese Literature - Li-hua Ying 2010

The Dictionary

LI SHASHA, PEN NAME OF BI LIZI (1982— ). Fiction and prose writer. Born in a village in Hunan Province, Li Shasha graduated from Northwestern University in Xi’an in 2004. Li belongs to the generation of the Internet, which launched his career. While still a freshman in college, Li began posting poems and stories online. Nicknamed “the Teenage Shen Congwen,” he became known initially for his childhood stories about rural Hunan, a subject Shen had explored in the 1930s and 1940s. Another influence comes from Wang Xiaobo, whose unbridled imagination and liberal spirit can be detected most notably in Li’s Hong X (Red X)—“red x” referring to the error mark written by teachers on student papers—a coming-of-age novel that portrays a rebellious teenager who, after being dismissed from school, experiences an existential and spiritual crisis while struggling to overcome hunger, deception, and his own self-destructive behavior. Another work of Li’s, Bei dangzuo gui de ren (Ghosts in the City), a collection of essays, consists of two parts: reminiscences of the western Hunan countryside and his observations of life in the city of Xi’an. In general, his essays are held in better regard by critics. The most memorable ones include “Wo zui nan wang de yishuang nüren de shou” (An Unforgettable Pair of Women’s Hands) about a child’s vague awareness of romantic love, “Bei dangzuo gui de ren” on the hard life of migrant workers in the city, “Liang ge shaonian” (Two Teens) about country kids, “Yige xi’ai chuzou de pengyou” (A Friend Who Loves to Leave Home) about a wanderlust attracted by the outside world, and “Dakou gudu” (Foreign Music CDs and the Ancient Capital) about his impressions of modern youth culture in Xi’an.

Li received the 2005 Chinese Language Literature and Media Award. He also attracted international attention when he was featured in an article in Time magazine in June 2006, which calls him a “ghost writer” who represents the millions of country folks who have streamed into China’s big urban centers. Chinese critics have praised his natural, effortless prose that captures the beauty and innocence of a rustic world and his vivid depiction of the dreams of rural youths lured away from their villages by the promise of modern life. A talented voice among the post-1980s generation, whose majority grew up in the cities and tend to focus narrowly on teenage rebels and personal angst, Li, who was raised in the countryside but now works in Guangzhou as a journalist, is uniquely poised to tackle the issues faced by Chinese youths outside the confines of school and romantic love. His work touches the core of Chinese modernization and the prices its youth and its country poor have to pay. For the depth of his work and his highly imaginative prose, Li is widely considered one of the most promising writers among his contemporaries.