WANG ZENGQI (1920—1997)
WANG ZENGQI (1920—1997). Fiction writer and playwright. Born in Gaoyou, Jiangsu Province, Wang attended Southwest United University in Kunming during the Sino-Japanese War and studied with Shen Congwen, who greatly influenced his writing. Wang was one of the very few writers whose career spanned nearly half a century. He published his first story in the 1940s, and continued to write during the Cultural Revolution and into the 1980s. From 1962 until his death, his official job was writing librettos for the Beijing Opera Troupe. He was one of the main writers of Shajia bang (The Shajia Creek), a revolutionary opera promoted by Mao’s wife Jiang Qing. Wang reached the height of his creative career in the post-Mao era, with the publication of numerous short stories and essays. He is noted for his graceful style and lyrical sensibility, a legacy seen as passed down from Shen Congwen. A kind of godfather figure in the root-seeking movement of the 1980s, Wang also shared Shen’s interest in cultures far removed from modernity, which were further explored by younger writers such as Han Shaogong and Zheng Wanlong.
Wang grew up in a landed family that was deeply rooted in Chinese traditions. His father was an easygoing man of many talents, a lover of literature and an accomplished musician, painter, calligrapher, and athlete, who greatly influenced his son. Like the rest of his generation, young Wang received both the traditional and modern forms of education. Toward the end of his career, however, it was Chinese traditions that had the greatest impact on his writing. His stories and essays are permeated with traditional sentiments. Many of his characters, such as the friends in “Suihan sanyou” (Three Friends in the Cold of Winter) exhibit the Confucian ideals of social engagement, moral uprightness, and human benevolence. The characters with Taoist inclinations are portrayed as having no ambitions other than living peacefully in the world and tending their personal interests: growing flowers, fishing, and cultivating artistic tastes. The laborers in “Da nao jishi” (A Tale of the Big Lake), an award-winning story, demonstrate contentedness with life and tolerance of others. “Fuchou” (Revenge), based on an account from the Buddhist sutras, tells how a fatal revenge is averted. “Youming zhong” (When the Death Bell Tolls), another story of Buddhist themes, conveys the compassion of monks. “Shoujie” (The Love Story of a Young Monk), which also won an award, portrays a monastic life without rigid rules. In the temple, the monks sing love songs, play cards, and even get married and have children. Leading a natural life of simplicity and freedom, they represent the ideals of Zen Buddhism as advocated and practiced by men of letters in ancient China. It was precisely this attitude toward life that helped Wang survive the decades of political vicissitudes. His personal convictions, which include kindness to others, living in harmony with society and nature, and a strong belief in humanity, are themes explored in his fiction and essays.