CAO ZHILIAN, A.K.A. JERLIAN TSAO (1969— ) - The Dictionary

Chinese Literature - Li-hua Ying 2010

The Dictionary

CAO ZHILIAN, A.K.A. JERLIAN TSAO (1969— ). Fiction writer. A graduate from National Taiwan University and the University of California at Berkeley, Cao Zhilian represents the new generation of “Internet writers” whose works are published online before they are picked up by traditional print publishers. Cao has written two novels and some short stories; they all can be found in paper form. Mou dai fengliu (The Romance of a Certain Era), published online in 1996, was conceived when she was researching for her Ph.D. dissertation on the social transformation in the city of Suzhou during the Ming dynasty (1368—1644). Set in the 16th century, it depicts the nebulous relationships among several characters. The experimental book resembles a collection of stories or essays rather than a traditional novel. The structure is loose and free, typical of Web writings, allowing the reader to read in a random order. The book is filled with details of landscape, food, clothing, entertainment, and other aspects of life in the Ming, and the tales of romance, political intrigue, and family feuds are woven in a language of classical grace and refinement. There is also a great deal of latitude and fluidity when the narrative travels through time and space. Yinxiang shu (A Book of Impressions), a more extreme experimentation than her previous work, is a novel without a story. The central theme of the book is the changing cultures of the living environment and the individual’s relationship to them, focusing on Taipei, Berkeley, Hong Kong, and mainland China but without mentioning their specific names. The narrative strategy is designed to foreground the intimate, experiential connection between the self and the physical locale. What propels the narrative movement, however, is the language, the written word. In this work, Cao sets out to prove that a novel can be made with only words and imageries. Without the development and climax of a storyline, and without a protagonist, the novel relies on the beauty of the language to create humor, irony, and a sense of sorrow. Tang chu de huaban (Pedals of the Early Tang) is a collection of her early stories. See also WOMEN.