Chinese Literature - Li-hua Ying 2010
CAO NAIQIAN (1949— )
CAO NAIQIAN (1949— ). A Shanxi native, Cao began his literary career in the late 1980s when his short stories about rural Shanxi garnered praises from the veteran writer Wang Zengqi, who wrote an essay introducing his work to the public. The Wenjiayao stories, totaling more than 20, are based on life in the village at the border between Shanxi and Inner Mongolia, where Cao lived for a year during the Cultural Revolution supervising the educated city youths sent there to perform physicial labor. These stories, published in some of China’s major literary journals, won immediate critical acclaim in both China and Taiwan and attracted the attention of the Swedish Sinologist Goran Malmqvist, who helped promote Cao’s work. Cao’s realistic portrayal of destitution reveals some of the most horrific conditions of rural life in northern China. As a true realist, Cao presents Wenjiayao as it is—a village debilitated by poverty, with food and sex dominating the thoughts and conversations of the men. The stories contain unfiltered local ballads that express in a vivid and crude language sexual desire that burns inside the men in the village. “Nüren” (Women) and “Da pinhuo” (Bachelors’ Potluck) are two of the stories in the Wenjiayao series. Dao heiye xiang ni mei banfa (When I Think of You Late at Night, There’s Nothing I Can Do), a novel composed of five short stories, is arguably the best of Cao’s work. It tells how the hunger for food and sex that ravages Wenjiayao turns one man into a criminal who rapes his own mother and forces a woman to offer her own body to alleviate her son’s pent-up desire. It also exposes the abuse of power in the hands of village leaders. Cao’s unfinished semiautobiographical novel, Shangshi jiuzhang (Nine Chapters of the Bygone Times), consists of eight short stories and one novella. In 2005, Cao was invited to participate in the International Writers Workshop at Hong Kong Baptist University.