XU DISHAN (1893—1941) - The Dictionary

Chinese Literature - Li-hua Ying 2010

XU DISHAN (1893—1941)
The Dictionary

XU DISHAN (1893—1941). Fiction writer and essayist. Born in Taiwan, Xu Dishan settled in Fujian with his family after Japan occupied the island. While a student at Yanjing University in Beijing, he took part in the May Fourth Movement. From 1923 to 1926, Xu studied religion and philosophy at Columbia University and Cambridge University. On his way back to China, he stopped in India to study Buddhism and Sanskrit. Upon his return to Beijing in 1927, he became a professor at his alma mater. He left Beijing in 1935 for a job at the University of Hong Kong and died six years later in the midst of the Japanese invasion of China.

Xu was a unique personality among his contemporaries. His background as a Christian and scholar of religious studies and his experience in south and southeast Asia gave him a distinctive perspective on life and the world. His early stories are known for their exotic settings. “Shangren fu” (The Merchant’s Wife) is a tale of a Chinese woman who leaves her home in Fujian to look for her husband in Singapore who later sells her to a Muslim merchant from India. While expressing sympathy for the woman, the story does not put emphasis on the exploitation of women, a popular theme among May Fourth writers. Rather it conveys a magnanimous attitude toward life and suffering, revealed through the words of the protagonist. In his works, Xu focused on love, forgiveness, and a sense of harmony, reflecting his religious background. Even in his later and more socially oriented works, Xu adhered to the principle of understanding and kindness. “Chuntao” (Spring Peach) details the life of a woman with two husbands, an unusual arrangement caused by war and poverty and sustained by compassion. Xu created characters with complicated experiences and plots with many twists and turns. In addition to a small corpus of fictional works, Xu published several collections of essays. His best-known essay is “Luohuasheng” (Goober Peas), which has been included in school textbooks.