CAN XUE, PEN NAME OF DENG XIAOHUA (1953— ) - The Dictionary

Chinese Literature - Li-hua Ying 2010

The Dictionary

CAN XUE, PEN NAME OF DENG XIAOHUA (1953— ). Fiction writer. Born and raised in Changsha by intellectual parents working for the Hunan Daily, Can Xue moved with her family to a farm in the late 1950s when her father was labeled a rightist. During the famine that soon followed, the family suffered incredible hardships. The onset of the Cultural Revolution permanently ended Can Xue’s formal schooling, leaving her with only a primary school education. Can Xue went to work in a factory and later quit her job to become a seamstress. She began writing in the early 1980s. A primary advocate for the Chinese avant-garde long before it became a trendy literary movement in China, Can Xue was a unique figure among contemporary Chinese writers. She takes pride in writing “pure literature” and single-mindedly pursues her own artistic vision, completely unaffected by either her critics or the market. With an imaginative mind, she has spun some of the most fantastic stories in contemporary Chinese literature. In her works, one can find traces of influence by Jorge Luis Borges and Franz Kafka. Her short stories, including “Shan shang de xiao wu” (A Little Hut on the Hill) and “Feizao” (Soap), and novellas such as “Canglao de fu yun” (Old Floating Clouds) and “Huang ni jie” (Yellow Mud Street), all written in the 1980s and variably called “gothic,” “surrealistic,” and “absurd,” remain her best-known works. In these texts, dreams and fantasies appear to be tangible and believable. Focusing on the subconscious of the human mind, Can Xue has created a world that is invariably irrational, fragmented, and nightmarish, with no clear definition of time, space, and identity. Among the group of avant-garde writers who began writing experimental fiction in the 1980s, Can is arguably the only one who has maintained a cutting-edge approach to literature, continuing to produce the kind of work that compels the reader to participate in an intellectual exercise. Bianjiang (The Frontier), a recent novel that portrays the uncanny life of a small border town whose residents possess extraordinary abilities, is a testament to her sustained creative energy and her persistent effort at exploring the realm of the human psyche.