TIE NING (1957— ) - The Dictionary

Chinese Literature - Li-hua Ying 2010

TIE NING (1957— )
The Dictionary

TIE NING (1957— ). Novelist. Tie Ning grew up in the turbulent years of the Cultural Revolution and worked for four years among peasants in a village. In her early writing career, Tie focused on the northern countryside with which she is intimately familiar. “Oh, Xiang Xue” (Ah, Fragrant Snow), a sentimental tale published in 1982, made her a national name. This short story describes the coming of modernity to the Chinese countryside during the post-Mao era, as represented by the arrival of a train at a remote village. While selling fruits and eggs to passengers when the train stops at her village, Xiang Xue, along with other young girls, gets a glimpse of what the outside world looks like. Encouraged by Sun Li, a veteran writer also based in Hebei who liked the lyricism and the optimistic tone of the story, Tie published in the following year “Meiyou niukou de hong chenshan” (A Red Shirt without Buttons), one of her best-known works. Once again, with a young girl as her protagonist, the author portrays an independent youth who, after some mental anguish, gives up being a model student to wear a red shirt among the uniformity of blues and greys. The story captures the spirit of the new era, when nonconformist behavior was beginning to emerge.

Three other works published in the 1980s marked the beginning of Tie’s long engagement with the subject of feminine subjectivity. “Maijie Duo” (Haystacks) concentrates on the fate of women in a village and the tragedy of their failed marriages. “Mianhua duo” (Cotton Stacks), another of her stories about rural women, centers on three female characters in the 1930s whose tragic fate is tied to the traditional world defined by male agendas. Meigui men (Gate of Roses), her first full-length novel, pays attention to female sexuality while depicting the dark side of human relationships. Most characters in these works survive in a male-centered society in which a “good” woman fulfils her maternal role while a “bad” one lets her sexuality get out of control. Tie is adept at exploring the restricted world inhabited by tradition-bound rural women, the small pleasures they extract from monotonous everyday life, and the enormous sacrifices they make for their families and communities.

Tie’s focus on women and their role in society continued into the next two decades. Yongyuan you duoyuan (How Long Is Forever), published in 1999, shifts the spotlight onto a woman born and bred in the city who finds her traditional virtues, such as honesty and kindness, unsuited to the changing times of commercialism. Da yu nü (A Woman of Experience), published in the following year, examines the personal life of a middle-aged woman who has been abandoned by her film star husband. In both novels, the protagonists are treated as victims not just of men but also of other women, an indication that the author believes that the age of innocence, of mutual trust that she wrote about at the beginning of her career, is gone forever.

Tie’s best work, Ben Hua (Native Cotton), is set in the chaotic early Republican period. The story centers on a family in a village where the main crop is ben hua, a low-yielding but resilient local cotton. The patriarch is a peasant boy whose meteoric rise to the powerful position of a high-ranking military officer is a local legend. Because of its ties to the outside world, the village is at the crossroad of tradition and modernity. While Christian missionaries introduce new water pumps to the villagers, girls from poor families continue the age-old custom of sleeping with strangers in exchange for cotton during harvest season. The peaceful lifestyle is disrupted by the entry of the superior cotton introduced from Japan, which is closely followed by the Japanese Imperial Army’s invasion of China. The novel ends with the family losing two of its members to Japanese brutality.

Tie was president of the Hebei Writers’ Association and in 2006 was elected president of the Chinese Writers’ Association, the first woman to hold that position. See also SINO-JAPANESE WAR.