ZHANG GUIXING (1956— ) - The Dictionary

Chinese Literature - Li-hua Ying 2010

The Dictionary

ZHANG GUIXING (1956— ). Fiction writer. Born in Borneo, Malaysia, Zhang Guixing graduated from National Taiwan Normal University with a bachelor’s degree in English. He became a permanent resident of Taiwan in 1982 and has been living and working there ever since. Like Li Yongping, Zhang went to Taiwan to study and found his calling in literature. As a “lü Tai Ma Hua zuojia” (Malaysian Chinese writer living in Taiwan), a term that aptly reflects the richness and complexity of his literary heritage, Zhang taps the multiple sources of Chinese, Malaysian, Taiwanese, and Western literary traditions. His first collection of short stories, Fu hu (Capturing the Tiger), already reflects this diverse background. What established his so-called tropical rainforest style, however, is Keshan de ernü (Keshan’s Sons and Daughters), a collection of short stories about his homeland, such as “Wan dao, lanhua, and Zuolun qiang” (The Curvy Knife, the Orchid, and the Revolver), a story of the absurd that centers on a series of coincidences happening to a college student who returns from Taiwan to Malaysia only to find himself a target of kidnapping. Other works that pit the hero against the lush background of the rainforest and rubber plantations of Southeast Asia include Qun xiang (Herds of Elephants), a novel about a young man in search of his uncle, who is a guerrilla leader, and Sailian zhi ge (Siren Song), which explores youthful sexuality amid the violence of the wild rainforest.

As a Chinese Malaysian, Zhang is fascinated by the history of Chinese migration to Southeast Asia. His novels explore the reasons and the forces that led his ancestors to the South Seas and the consequences of their arduous journey. In Wanpi jiazu (The Clown Dynasty), he parodies the Biblical story of Noah’s Ark as a metaphor for the journey of Chinese Malaysians who “floated” from southern China to Southeast Asia. The same theme runs in Wo sinian de chang mian zhong de nan guo gongzhu (My South Seas Sleeping Beauty: A Tale of Memory and Longing) and Hou bei (The Primate Cup), which expose the sufferings of the Chinese at the hands of the colonialists as well as the vicious fights and killings between the Chinese and the aborigines as a result of the brutal forces of Western industrial expansion. While he puts the blame on colonialism and capitalism for plundering the natural resources of the third world and directly causing ethnic strife, he goes further to show that the Chinese settlers and the locals are perfectly capable of prejudice and violence and that brutality is inherently human.

As Zhang critiques the history of colonialism in Southeast Asia, he describes sexuality as a form of male hegemony. Time and again in his novels, Zhang depicts the brutal force and power that men wield while making sexual conquests. By treating sexual desire as both salvation and moral degradation, his work bears signs of Christian influence. The mother in Wo sinian de chang mian zhong de nan guo gongzhu is the Eve of Eden, representing sin as well as innocence: the mother a prodigal son fondly remembers and the country to which a young man far away from home longs to return to have both lost their pristine quality. Eden has become a land of carnalism and paradise is filled with suffering and injustice.

Each one of Zhang’s major works is a complex web, woven into which are myths, legends, parables, fairy tales, history, and personal memories. In his characteristically free-flowing, unrestrained style, Zhang has created an exuberant aesthetic befitting the verdant, foreboding rainforest he frequently depicts. As an author who deals with cultural identity and the dilemma of straddling multiple national borders, he represents in many ways the epitome of cultural globalism of the postmodern world.