LIU ZHENYUN (1958— ) - The Dictionary

Chinese Literature - Li-hua Ying 2010

LIU ZHENYUN (1958— )
The Dictionary

LIU ZHENYUN (1958— ). Fiction writer. Born in Yanjin, Henan Province, Liu Zhenyun was a schoolteacher and an army soldier before attending Beijing University. Upon graduation, he was assigned to work for the Peasant Daily. From 1989 to 1991, Liu was a graduate student at the Lu Xun Institute of Literature. He currently lives in Beijing.

Liu began publishing in 1982, the year he graduated from college, but fame did not find him until the late 1980s, when his short story “Yidi jimao” (Ground Covered with Chicken Feathers) was published. The story, told in a naturalistic manner, presents the tedious and hopeless life of an office worker in the city. A later novel, Shouji (Cell Phone), a satirical treatment of corruption that penetrates every aspect of social life, brought him to the height of his fame when it was adapted into a movie.

Similar thematic concerns dominate many of his works written in the 1990s, most notably the series of stories centered on his hometown. These poignant stories examine the makeup of the nation’s culture by analyzing the pervasive abuse of power in society. In Guxiang tianxia huanghua (Hometown Filled with Yellow Flowers), the pursuit of the coveted job of village head has caused hatred and cost lives for generations between two families. Since the position brings power and power brings unlimited access, both families are willing to sacrifice their lives for it. Guxiang xiangchu liuchuan zhong (Hometown Interacting with Legends) connects the present with the past by bringing historical figures, such as Cao Cao (155—220) of the Three Kingdoms and Empress Dowager Cixi (1838—1908) of the Qing, side by side with the village’s party secretary. However, the author reserves his sharpest criticism for the masses for their complacency. Guxiang mian he huaduo (Hometown Noodles and Flowers) examines, in the author’s typical mocking voice, history and its webs of connections in which whoever has the power of speech has control of everything else. Yiqiang feihua (All Bullshit) expands Liu’s interest in cultural inquiries into a philosophical reflection on language. The novel is an allegorical tale about a group of imaginative people in the lower echelons of society who love to picture themselves in a different kind of life but are frightened by their own thoughts. In order to cure the fear, they try to return to normalcy by talking about their real life only to find the words to be nothing but pure nonsense. Suspecting that they have gone crazy, they leave home to look for the cause of their insanity.

Liu is one of the most creative voices in modern Chinese literature. He is noted for his superb ability to retain satirical intervention without shortchanging a realistic representation of life. The comic element often found in his works serves to enhance the sense of absurdity in everyday life. Wo jia Liu Yuejin (My Name Is Liu Yuejin) turns upside down the logic of “the survival of the fittest” by giving the “sheep” a chance to defeat the “wolves.” Liu Yuejin is a cook on a construction site. While looking for his lost bag, he chances upon another bag that contains a computer disk whose content, once revealed, would potentially destroy the lives of several important people. A hide-and-seek game ensues, ending in the triumph of the kind and harmless protagonist.