DING XILIN (1893—1974)
DING XILIN (1893—1974). Playwright. Trained as a scientist, Ding Xilin was a rare case in Chinese literary circles. He was a student of physics and mathematics at the University of Birmingham from 1914 to 1920 and taught physics at universities in China throughout his life. After 1949, he held several official titles: representative to the People’s Congress, vice minister of culture, director of Beijing Library, and member of the standing committee of the Association of Chinese Playwrights.
Ding was interested in literature at a young age, but it was his sojourn in Great Britain that gave him the opportunity to read a wide variety of Western works that inspired him to write plays. In the 1920s, Ding was arguably the greatest playwright on the stage of aimei ju (the amateur play), a precursor to the modern spoken drama. His first play, Yizhi mafeng (A Wasp), a romantic comedy written in 1923, pokes fun at social taboos that prohibit young people from finding their own marriage partners. Its success motivated him to produce more works: Qin’ai de zhangfu (Dear Husband), Jiu hou (Flushed with Wine), Yapo (Oppression), and Xia le yizhi yan (One Eye Blinded), all written in the 1920s. He continued to write in the 1930s and 1940s, and his last work came out in 1961. In addition to Yizhi mafeng, his best-known plays are Yapo, about two young people pretending to be married in order to satisfy the landlord who refuses to take in unmarried young tenants, and San kuai qian guobi (Three Dollars), which features a university student showing his indignation at a rich lady who demands from her servant a payment of three dollars for having broken her vase. Ding wrote mostly one-act comedies, satirizing the small injustices and social conventions in everyday life. Although they contain evidences of leftist ideology, his plays are subtle in their message and focus on class, gender, and generational conflicts. Ding prefers a simple plot, unexpected resolution, and a humorous but elegant vernacular language to create comic moments.
Ding was a man of many talents. Other than his profession as a physicist and his success in the theater, he also dabbled in language reform, having invented a system that uses character strokes for looking up words in a dictionary, a system that has been put to new use for entering Chinese characters with a computer.