CHEN CUN, PEN NAME OF YANG YIHUA (1954— ) - The Dictionary

Chinese Literature - Li-hua Ying 2010

The Dictionary

CHEN CUN, PEN NAME OF YANG YIHUA (1954— ). Fiction writer. A Shanghai native, Chen Cun was sent in 1971 to a village in Anhui, where he stayed until 1975, when an illness allowed him to return to Shanghai. He studied political science at Shanghai Teachers’ College and worked for several years in the city government. He is currently a member of the Shanghai Writers’ Association. Because of a spinal disease that has permanently bent his back, he jokingly calls himself “Curve Man,” a nickname he sometimes uses as a pen name.

Chen Cun deals with issues in everyday urban existence, and his stories are populated by ordinary folks who lead mundane lives without apparent drama. He is best known for his portrayals of teenagers in Shaonan shaonü yigong qige (Young Men and Women: Seven in Total), which tackles dilemmas faced by high school graduates who fail the notoriously grueling college entrance exams. In his characteristically humorous and mocking tone, he conveys the despair and rebelliousness of youths who try to maintain their equilibrium under tremendous social and parental pressure. His stories are not plot driven; the fragmented parts are connected by an ironic language that serves to direct and energize the narrative. Xianhua he (Fresh Flowers) is typical of Chen’s style. Without major events or a sustained plot, the book is a journal kept by a writer, sick at home, who records what he does and sees everyday, such as eating, drinking, sleeping, shopping for groceries, brushing his teeth, taking a bath, writing letters, making love, watching TV, and other such trivial occurrences. By cataloging banal trifles, Chen Cun aims to strip life of its pretense and return it to its essence, laying bare man’s vulnerabilities.

Chen Cun is also a prolific essayist. He has written biting but good-natured satires, creating a persona who does not take himself too seriously while making fun of other people’s follies. His essays are collected in Wanren zishu (Confessions of the Curve Man) and Sishi hushuo (Making Nonsense at Forty).