ZHENG WANLONG (1944— ) - The Dictionary

Chinese Literature - Li-hua Ying 2010

The Dictionary

ZHENG WANLONG (1944— ). Fiction writer. Born in Heilongjiang, Zheng Wanlong spent his early childhood among the Eroqen huntsmen and gold miners in the mountains of the northeast. He moved to Beijing at the age of eight after his mother died. After graduating from Beijing Chemical Engineering School in 1963, he worked for 11 years as a technician in a fertilizer factory while writing poetry and short stories in his spare time. He was transferred to the Beijing Press in 1974 to work as an editor, an important step in his writing career. In 1980, he became a member of the Chinese Writers’ Association and began to devote himself to writing full-time.

In the mid-1980s, Zheng joined the popular root-seeking movement with an article “Wo de gen” (My Roots) and with a series of stories based on the memories of his childhood encounters with life in the harsh environment of the Da Xing’an Mountains in Heilongjiang. These “strange tales from strange lands” (yi xiang yi wen) depict a world of danger and brutality, where men try to survive in the uninhabited hostile environment. Much like the world of the American Westerns, Zheng’s northern frontier is governed by guns, liquor, and physical might. In this primitive world, men are pitted against nature and against one another. Far away from civilization, masculine vigor is celebrated while anything that relates to the civilized society is frowned upon. Having once killed a wolf with three kicks, the hero in “Lao Bangzi jiuguan” (Old Stick’s Wineshop), a man proud of the 43 scars on his body, is feared and revered. To safeguard his tough-guy image, he disappears into the mountains so that he will be thought to have died in the wilderness hunting down animals, not from an illness, which is the real cause of his death. In these “strange lands” inhabited by mythological tribes, superstition rules alongside of sheer muscle. Customs such as worshiping a sulfuric smell depicted in “Huang yan” (Yellow Smoke) offer the reader a glimpse into the exotic traditions of the northern frontier.

Zheng currently lives in Beijing and writes film and television scripts.