YAN GELING (1956— )
YAN GELING (1956— ). Novelist. Born in Shanghai, Yan Geling joined a military performance troupe as a dancer at the age of 12. This experience provides the background for some of her early work including “Mai hong pingguo de mang nüzi” (The Blind Woman Selling Red Apples), a gripping tale set in Tibet about cultural conflicts between the Han soldiers and local Tibetans. She began writing in the 1970s as a journalist covering the Sino-Vietnamese border war. Her first fictional story was published in the 1980s after she left the armed service. When she went to the United States in 1989 on a student visa, Yan was already a familiar name in China. She received her master’s of fine arts in creative writing from Columbia College, Chicago. She currently lives in the United States and makes frequent trips back to China. Her books are written in Chinese and occasionally in English. Her writing is brisk, spare, and fluid.
Yan has written several stories about urban youth sent to China’s far-flung countryside during the Cultural Revolution. Cixing caodi (Female Grassland) relates the heartbreaking fates of a group of city girls left on a remote grassland to raise horses for the cavalry. “Tian yu” (Celestial Bath) centers on a vulnerable city girl living among coarse herdsmen who exchanges her body for the opportunity to get back to the city.
Yan’s protagonists are often young, vibrant, innocent women thrown into the company of unscrupulous men in a corrupt world. The protagonist of “Shaonü Xiaoyu” (A Girl Named Xiaoyu) is a simple-minded, good-hearted immigrant forced into a fake marriage by her boyfriend for the purpose of obtaining legal status. “Shui jia you nü chu zhangcheng” (Good-by, Innocence) tells a wrenching story about a gullible rural girl kidnapped and sold into prostitution who later becomes a murderer. Fusang (The Lost Daughter of Happiness), a novel set in the 19th century, features a young woman from a Chinese village who is sold into prostitution in San Francisco’s Chinatown. While telling the riveting story of the heroine’s entangled relationship with a white man, the narrator frequently interrupts the narrative to speak directly with the protagonist, sharing feelings about her own interracial marriage. Yan’s most recent novel, Xiaoyi Duohe (Aunt Duohe) is a moving tale about a young Japanese woman named Duohe who is sold at the end of World War II to be the second wife of the second son of the Zhang family. The Zhangs suffered many losses in the war: the eldest son was killed by the Japanese and the second son’s first wife miscarried when the Japanese invaded their village, rendering her unable to bear children. The burden to ensure that the family line would continue falls on Duohe. She does not disappoint the Zhangs and in the end gives them three children. Since polygamy is outlawed in the new China, the family has to present Duohe to the outside world as the sister of the second daughter-in-law. To avoid suspicion, this unconventional family moves several times. Duohe, with her high standard of hygiene and a strong principle of right and wrong, and the Zhangs, who adopt a philosophy of life that takes things as they come and accepts life’s adversities with no resistance, manage to stay together as a family for 40 years. Several of Yan’s works have been turned into movies, including “Shaonü Xiaoyu,” “Tian yu,” “Shui jia you nü chu zhangcheng,” and Fusang. See also WOMEN.