DONG QIZHANG, A.K.A. DUNG KAI CHEUNG (1967— ) - The Dictionary

Chinese Literature - Li-hua Ying 2010

The Dictionary

DONG QIZHANG, A.K.A. DUNG KAI CHEUNG (1967— ). Fiction writer. Born and raised in Hong Kong, Dong Qizhang received his master’s degree in comparative literature from Hong Kong University. One of the most talented writers coming out of Hong Kong, Dong has produced an impressive output of works, most of which are novellas and novels. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including Taiwan’s prestigious Unitas Literature Award.

His first award-winning novella “Anzhuo zhenni” (Androgyny) describes a female scientist who runs away from an unhappy marriage and lives in a remote mountain to research a rare type of lizard. As a modern, independent woman with strong feminist beliefs, she rejects the traditional role expected of her and refuses to be a “baby-making machine,” a role into which her loveless marriage has essentially reduced her. Dong devotes a good amount of pages to the nature and habits of the androgynous lizard, which represents the woman’s radical feminist position: without relying on men to reproduce, women could forever forsake male oppression and become truly independent. After the success of “Androgyny,” Dong continued to explore gender identity in Shuang shen (A Hermaphrodite), a novel reminiscent of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando. The protagonist wakes up one morning to find himself metamorphed into a female body and in so doing he/she gains a unique perspective into the multiplicity of human nature. In deconstructing the conventional ideas of gender differences, the novel makes references to Chinese myths about animals that embody both the yin and the yang.

Dong’s novels are ambitious in terms of both scope of subjects and degree of innovation. Although they are rooted in Hong Kong realities, Dong is more interested in examining universal issues within history—not just human history but the history of the universe. The sheer vastness of intellectual territory his novels encompass is breathtaking and unprecedented in modern Chinese literature. Tian gong kai wu: Xuxu ru zhen (The Beginning of Things: The True Life of Xuxu) and Shijian fan shi: Yaci zhi guang (A Complex History of Time: Yaci’s Light), parts one and two of his Ziran shi sanbuqu (Trilogy of a Natural History) represent such a multicourse feast (part three is yet to be published). These novels are set in Hong Kong but the issues covered in them are undoubtedly universal. What concerns Dong is human behavior in the material work and individual conduct in the development of civilizations. He studies material culture by looking at how the radio, telephone, sewing machine, automobile, typewriter, camera, book, and other daily goods have been invented and made and their relationship with the individual, the family, and the city. Through the portrayal of the life and work of the writer/protagonist, he also examines the dynamics between the creator/writer and the created/character.

Often characterized as postmodern, Dong’s works are influenced by Jorge Luis Borges and Italo Calvino. Like these masters, Dong loves to push the limits of novel writing to the extreme. He sets out to break barriers between different genres, mixing, in his cauldron of fiction, scientific, philosophical, literary, sociological, and political discourses. Part of the reason that he stretches across so many fields is that each new discovery stimulates his imagination, renews his creativity, and provides a refreshing angle from which to examine the world around him.