Chinese Literature - Li-hua Ying 2010
WANG LUYAN, A.K.A. LU YAN (1902—1944)
WANG LUYAN, A.K.A. LU YAN (1902—1944). Fiction writer. One of the early nativist writers in modern Chinese literature, Wang Luyan was born in a village in eastern Zhejiang and left home for Shanghai at the age of 15 to work as a shop apprentice. Three years later, he joined a work-study group in Beijing where he audited classes at Beijing University and taught himself Esperanto while trying to make a living by selling small wares and washing clothes. Attracted to the leftist literary doctrines in the 1930s, Wang became a member of the Left-wing Association of Chinese Writers.
Wang began his career by writing romantic tales. Later, as he became increasingly captivated by Marxist ideas, he adopted some of the leftist tendencies in his works. The novel Ye huo (Wildfire), renamed Fennu de xiangcun (The Enraged Countryside), foregrounds class struggle in line with the Communist Party’s interpretation of social hierarchy. While his works written during this phase have more or less gone out of fashion, his stories about his hometown, all written in the late 1920s and early 1930s, have secured him a place in the history of modern Chinese literature.
Inspired by the memories of his childhood, these stories paint a vivid picture of rural Zhejiang with realistic details describing customs and habits of village life and capturing the beauty and complexity of the countryside. The most prominent characters in these stories are small merchants who struggle to stay solvent as industrial forces and local powers nibble away at their traditional way of life. “Huangjin” (Gold) is about such a middle-class character whose respected status in his village is compromised when he does not receive money his son is supposed to have wired to him. Once the money does not materialize, he becomes the laughingstock of his fellow villagers. Clearly, in this society, a man is judged by the amount of wealth he possesses. “Qiao shang” (On the Bridge) tells the story of a small businessman, like Lao Tongbao in Mao Dun’s “Silkworm,” driven to bankruptcy by big companies with foreign machines and investments. Several of Wang’s hometown stories describe the customs of the seaside communities of eastern Zhejiang. “Juying de chujia” (Juying’s Wedding) portrays the local tradition of marrying a woman to a dead man; “Cha lu” (Fork in a Road) tells about a fight between two villages as they carry the deity Guandi in a procession to purge evil spirits. “Shu ya” (The Teeth of a Mouse) describes the local custom of “mice giving away daughters for marriage” to drive rodents to the neighbor’s house. These stories invoke a sense of nostalgia for a bygone world with all its attractions and imperfections.
In addition to these hometown stories for which he is best remembered, Wang also wrote essays and translated literature written originally in Esperanto. During the Sino-Japanese War, Wang drifted from place to place and finally died in Guilin from tuberculosis.