WANG MENG (1934— )
WANG MENG (1934— ). Fiction writer. In the early 1950s, Wang Meng, a young, idealistic Communist, wrote “Zuzhibu laide nianqing ren” (A Young Man from the Organization Department), the story that got him into trouble in 1957 during the Anti-Rightist Campaign. He was exiled to Xinjiang in 1963 and lived there for more than 15 years before being allowed to return to Beijing in 1978. Since then, he has turned out more than 20 volumes of works, with varying degrees of critical success. He has held many official positions in the government, including minister of culture.
Before his exile, Wang had only a handful of short stories to his name. A novel, Qingchun wansui (Long Live Youth), begun in 1953, did not come out until 1979; its publication delayed, apparently, by its author’s political troubles. His best works were completed after 1978. In many ways, Wang has been a trendsetter. He is widely credited with leading the way in the late 1970s and early 1980s in appropriating Western modernist techniques such as stream of consciousness and the expression of the absurd, and his Xinjiang stories are believed to have helped open up the field of root-seeking literature.
One of his experimental stories is “Hudie” (The Butterfly), in which Wang examines social, political, and personal transformation by focusing on how his characters lose and regain their self-identity. The bulk of the narrative is sustained by the internal musings of the protagonist, who returns to Beijing after a long political exile in a remote mountain village. While the length of time covered by the novel is only two days, the character’s mental activities, set off by external events, cover a span of 30 years of his life. Huodong bian renxing (Movement Shapes Human Figures) is arguably Wang’s best work. Unlike his many experimental stories, the novel is written in the mode of psychological realism. Through the tragic saga of four generations of the Ni family, Wang ponders issues such as the meaning of revolution and history, personal destiny, the clash of civilizations, and tradition as opposed to modernity.
Wang’s series of four novels, Lian’ai de jijie (The Season of Love), Shi lian de jijie (The Season of Lost Love), Chouchu de jijie (The Season of Hesitation), and Kuanghuan de jijie (The Season of Revelry), took him less than a decade to complete. They chronicle the journey of a Chinese intellectual from the founding of the People’s Republic to the end of the Cultural Revolution, representing the author’s view on the relationship of the intellectual to the Communist revolution. Essentially, these novels are semiautobiographical in nature, in that they mirror the author’s own trajectory from an ardent supporter of the revolution in the early days of the People’s Republic to a victim of its political campaigns. They were conceived, in the words of the author, as the “spiritual history of [his] generation.” The author examines the price one has to pay for decisions made at various crucial junctures in history. Whether one chooses to cooperate with those in power or remain independent ultimately determines the state of one’s soul. Qing hu (The Green Fox), a novel portraying the meteoric rise of a middle-aged woman writer and her failed quest for love in the midst of a male-centered literary circle, is a tragic story told in a playful, satirical language. In this novel, Wang intensifies the facetious narrative voice used in some of his short stories. The dominant syntax, built by repetition and parallelism, results in a hyperbolic style and heightens the cynical tone. In writing about the absurd behaviors of his fellow writers, Wang turns the Chinese literary circle into a ludicrous circus.