Chinese Literature - Li-hua Ying 2010

The Dictionary

SHU XIANGCHENG, PEN NAME OF WANG SHENQUAN (1921—1999). Poet, novelist, essayist, and painter. A native of Hong Kong, Shu began publishing vernacular poetry and short stories in the 1930s while still a college student. When Hong Kong fell into the hands of the Japanese in 1942, Shu went to the mainland and stayed on till after Japan surrendered. The difficult experiences he suffered during these years while traveling through the Chinese hinterland provided rich material for a novel, Jianku de xingcheng (An Arduous Journey), and other works. In 1948, Shu returned to Hong Kong and soon reached the most productive period of his career. While working at his daytime job in the office of various businesses, he wrote at night, resulting in a large number of stories, poems, and essays, published under more than a dozen pen names to avoid jeopardizing his job and to protect his identity when researching for new stories. Shu’s work also benefited from his many trips abroad, including his participation in the 1977 International Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa.

A realist writer, Shu was a true believer in the representational mode. He practiced an art that sought to reflect life truthfully. Born and raised in Hong Kong, he was familiar with the history and environment of the city, and the thoughts and customs of its residents, and tried to re-create them in his works. For many years, Shu remained Hong Kong’s favorite writer, whose works were appreciated by a wide spectrum of readers. Most of his fictional works deal with life in the lower echelons of society with its squalid conditions as well as its energy and humanism. “Liyu men de wu” (Mist over the Carp Gate) is a nostalgic tale about a man returning to his hometown with fond memories of the past. Bali liang’an (On the Banks of the Seine), inspired by his trip to Paris, features a French artist whose aspirations are repeatedly dashed by a materialistic society. Although set in a foreign land, this story resonates with the feelings Shu had about the fate of artists in Hong Kong, where true art found no sympathetic audience and all artistic forms were in danger of being commercialized. Taiyang xiashan le (The Sun Has Set), serialized in a literary journal in 1961, was published in 1984 on the mainland under the new title Gangdao dajie de beihou (Behind the Main Streets of Hong Kong). It tells the story of a poor but ambitious man who succeeds in life through perseverance and hard work.

Shu applied the techniques of realism to his painting as well as his poetry. His poems illustrate slices of Hong Kong life, expressing the poet’s love and affection for the island. A fan of Cantonese opera and folk music, Shu transfers its rhythm and cadence to his poetry, which depicts the grotesque vulgarity of modern existence, denounces its morbid dehumanization, and calls for a return to the embrace of Mother Nature.