ZHAO MEI (1954— )
ZHAO MEI (1954— ). Fiction and prose writer. Born in Tianjin, Zhao Mei received her bachelor’s degree from the Chinese Department of Nankai University. She currently works for the journal Wenxue ziyou tan (Candid Comments on Literature). Since 1986 when her first story appeared, Zhao has published more than four collections of short stories and more than a dozen novels as well as several collections of essays. In 1998, she won the Lun Xun Literature Award for her prose work Linghun zhi guang (The Light of the Soul). Zhao has created many memorable women characters including those in her historical novels such as Wu Zetian (Empress Wu) and Gaoyang gongzhu (Princess Gaoyang), both legendary figures in Chinese history, and in fictional accounts such as Women jiazu de nüren (Women in my Family), which tells harrowing stories about the sufferings of women as well as their heroic triumphs. Another group of Zhao’s works can be characterized as romantic novels, Tianguo de lianren (Lovers of the Sky) and Shiji mo de qingren (Lovers at the Fin de Siècle) among them.
Zhao’s recent novel Qiutian si yu dong ji (Autumn Dies in Winter) is unique among her publications both in style and subject matter. Unlike her previous work, which places much emphasis on plot, Qiutian si yu dong ji is a cerebral work that relies heavily on intellectual ruminations. The novel features several Chinese scholars who study and interpret the literary works of Milan Kundera, who is the central figure in this novel. Kundera was introduced to Chinese readers in the 1980s as a radical and innovative writer who successfully challenged the literary and intellectual establishments of the West. To Chinese intellectuals in the 1980s who were looking for ways to break away from all sorts of constraints of the past decades, Kundera was no doubt an inspiration. Merely a decade later, however, as the novel shows, such a literary and intellectual icon has become less relevant. The change in the image of Kundera mirrors the change in Chinese society. Kundera, who used to be the spiritual and intellectual anchor is no longer able to sustain Chinese intellectuals, as the idealism of the 1980s has given in to the pressures of mundane but inescapable daily life. The novel contains lengthy academic discourses on Kundera and his fictional characters.
Zhao’s works are characterized by her unfailingly graceful language and her ability to navigate between the expansive historical landscape and the subtleties of personal emotions.