CHENG NAISHAN (1946— ) - The Dictionary

Chinese Literature - Li-hua Ying 2010

The Dictionary

CHENG NAISHAN (1946— ). Novelist. Born in Shanghai, Cheng Naishan moved to Hong Kong with her family in 1949, but returned to her birthplace in 1956. She graduated from the Shanghai College of Education and taught English at a high school for 10 years before moving back to Hong Kong in the 1990s. Cheng’s literary career is closely tied to Shanghai, which provides material and inspiration for her works. Many of her writings about the city deal with wealthy families, similar to her own, who remained in the city after the Communist victory. A member of this once privileged class, Cheng knows intimately how they have fared throughout the decades of political vicissitudes. Lan wu (The Blue House) focuses on the family of the former owner of Shanghai’s largest steel mill and how their lives change in the aftermath of the revolution. Along the same line, Cheng planned to write a trilogy about an influential business tycoon and his descendents. The first book, Jinrongjia (The Banker), published in 1993 and based on her own grandfather’s life, is set against the background of the Sino-Japanese War (1937—1945) during which the protagonist tries to avert a financial disaster by maneuvering among his business rivals, the puppet Chinese government, and the Japanese occupiers. The novel also introduces the banker’s five children, setting the stage for the events that will unfold in the sequels.

A recurring theme in Cheng’s works is the clash of social classes. In Tiaoqin shi (The Piano Tuner), Cheng tells about the relationship between the son of a piano tuner and the daughter of a former capitalist who find themselves separated by an invisible wall despite their physical proximity. Her most recent work, Shanghai tange (Shanghai Tango), recounts the glorious days of old Shanghai with its vibrant commercial culture revolving around clubs, bars, cafés, sumptuous banquets, horse races, and other grand entertainment.