FEI MING, PEN NAME OF FENG WENBING (1901—1967) - The Dictionary

Chinese Literature - Li-hua Ying 2010

The Dictionary

FEI MING, PEN NAME OF FENG WENBING (1901—1967). Fiction writer and poet. A student of Zhou Zuoren, Fei Ming was a unique writer, well known in 1930s and the 1940s. His influence could be felt in the works of younger writers such as Shen Congwen and Wang Zengqi, two prominent writers in modern Chinese literature. However, as modern Chinese literature became increasingly realistic and utilitarian, Fei Ming’s subjective, personal narratives became somewhat irrelevant and his name remained unmentioned for several decades until the 1990s, when his works reemerged from layers of dust.

Buddhism, classical Chinese poetry, and modern Western literature informed much of Fei Ming’s work. Fei Ming was born in Huangmei, Hubei Province, an important place in the development of Chinese Buddhism because it was there that the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Patriarchs had practiced. Furthermore, the Fifth Patriarch was a Huangmei native. As a child, Fei Ming often accompanied his grandmother to the local temples. When he entered Beijing University in 1922, he was a frequent interlocutor with Hu Shi, who was writing a book on Zen Buddhism, and his teacher Zhou Zuoren was also a Buddhist. With a profound knowledge of Buddhist sutras, Fei Ming earned the respect of learned monks with whom he debated and shared ideas. He especially gravitated toward the ancient Chinese literary tradition that embraced the belief in simplicity and spontaneity advocated by Zen Buddhism as found in works by such preeminent poets as Wang Wei and Su Shi. While a student in the Foreign Languages Department of Beijing University, Fei Ming was exposed to symbolism and stream of consciousness, which coincided with some of the concepts embodied in Zen Buddhism and Tang poetry. What Fei Ming strove to achieve in his work was an artistic vision, a spiritual revelation, or a sensual image. His narrative is terse and compact, a feature that relates more to lyrical prose than to fiction, putting the emphasis on subjective feelings aroused through acute senses rather than mimetic descriptions of characters and intricate arrangements of plots. Noted for his economy of words, Fei Ming is celebrated for his ability to convey, through a simple, unadorned language, a profound outlook on life and society.

Fei Ming’s earlier works, such as the short stories in Zhulin de gushi (Bamboo Grove Stories) and the novel Qiao (Bridge), paint scenes of a pastoral life, often viewed from the perspective of an innocent child, or simple country person, whose heart is portrayed as pure, uncluttered by worldly concerns and thus closest to the highest form of truth. Seeking peace and simplicity is at the core of these stories. Fei Ming’s later works Moxuyou xiansheng zhuan (Biography of Mr. Nothing) and Moxuyou xiansheng zuo feiji yihou (After Mr. Nothing Takes a Ride in a Plane) are in many ways portraits of his own life. Here Fei Ming’s protagonist no longer lives in a utopian world as those in his earlier works do; Mr. Nothing leads an ordinary life, going to the market, teaching Chinese, writing an essay, among other daily routines. What this character displays is a sense of total surrender, a sort of free flow, without any deliberate effort to achieve something, even freedom itself. Mr. Nothing is, after all, a manifestation of the Zen state of being.