LI YONGPING (1947— )
LI YONGPING (1947— ). A Chinese Malaysian growing up in Sarawak, Li Yongping moved to Taiwan, where he earned a degree in English literature from National Taiwan University. He later received a doctoral degree in comparative literature from Washington University in St. Louis. Li’s major work is a group of stories first published serially in the 1970s and later collected under the title of Jiling chunqiu (Retribution: The Jiling Chronicles). It is considered a masterpiece of Chinese modernist literature with its emphasis on exquisite linguistic precision and emotional complexity as well as its intricate structure, metaphorical richness, and intense imagery. Set in a small town of uncertain locality, the novel tells a story of crime and revenge, dominated by primitive impulses, religious rituals, and karmic retribution. The victim is Changsheng, wife of a coffin maker, whose family lives in the midst of the town’s brothel district. On the day of the town’s biggest festival—the greeting of Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy—Changsheng is raped while making offerings to Guanyin in hopes of increasing her chances of bearing a son. Out of shame, Changsheng commits suicide. Her death sets her enraged husband off on a violent rampage.
Li’s other works include Haidong Qing: Taipei de yige yuyan (Haidong Qing: An Allegory of Taipei), which tells the experience of a Chinese Malaysian in Taipei, in his own words: “looking for China … for the roots of the Chinese.” The novel provides an interesting case for the study of Chinese diasporic literature. Issues such as cultural identity and literary heritage are at the core of this work. In the process of searching for self-identity, the narrator projects an illusion of Chinese culture, made possible by self-indulgence in the pursuit of linguistic aesthetics. Through the protagonist’s wanderings, the novel also explores how multinational corporations expand to the Third World and the serious implications for the local culture. Li is an absolute stylist in pursuit of “a pure, poetic language” inspired by the terse and compact classical Chinese, in sharp contrast to the verbose Westernized style prominent in modern Chinese expression.