GAO JIANQUN (1954— )
GAO JIANQUN (1954— ). Novelist and essayist. A Shanxi native, Gao Jianqun is a prolific writer, having published about two dozen novellas, such as “Yaoyuan de bai fangzi” (The White House in the Distance) and “Diaoxiang” (The Statues), and several collections of essays, including Xiongnu he Xiongnu yiwai (The Huns and Others) and Wo zai beifang shouge sixiang (I Am Harvesting Ideas in the North), and most significantly his novels about the ancient nomadic peoples of Central Asia. Gao lives in Xi’an and is the deputy director of the Shaanxi Writers Association.
As one of a growing number of writers devoted to depicting the cultural landscape of China’s Loess Steppe in the northwest, Gao has produced an impressive amount of writings on the people and cultures of the region, most notable of which is Zuihou yige Xiongnu (The Last Huns), part 1 of his Trilogy of the Great Northwest, which also includes Zuihou de minjian (The Last Folk World) and Zuihou de yuan xing (The Last Long-Distance Trip). Zuihou yige Xiongnu centers on three generations of one family purportedly descended from the Huns, a Eurasian nomadic people who once conquered the Chinese and the Romans but left behind no written record of their own history. How could such a powerful people disappear into the tunnel of time without a trace on the land they used to dominate? This novel attempts to answer that question by piecing together historical references, folklore, and an imagined family saga. With a sweeping introduction of the history and legends of the Huns, including their rise and fall in Europe, and a fictionalized account of the fate of two lovers, a Hun soldier and a Han woman who are believed to be ancestors of the main characters, the novel proceeds to provide a geohistory of the region in the 20th century, from the Republican period to the post-Mao era, focusing on the early decades when the Communist Party was building its Soviet-style base in northern Shaanxi. Loosely based on local archives and folklore, the novel depicts the harsh natural environment and difficult living conditions that mold the resilient and restless character of the people. Zuihou de minjian was first published as Liuliu Zhen (Liuliu Township), about a mediation office that settles conflicts and arguments among the townspeople, ranging from small thefts to criminal cases. From these civil cases, a rich tapestry of cultural traditions is revealed. Zuihou de yuan xing combines the narrative techniques of a martial arts novel and a detective story to tell an entertaining tale of intrigue and adventure, with events triggered by the discovery of a female corpse dug out from the grave, which travels for seven days on the road before finally being returned to the woman’s husband.
A more historically based work is Hu ma bei feng—damo zhuan (Nomads’ Horses and the Northern Wind—History of the Great Desert), an epic novel that deals with the rise and fall of ancient nomadic peoples in central Asia, including the Shanshan kingdom with its capital in Loulan, an oasis town founded in the second century B.C. that flourished for 800 years before vanishing into the sand, the Western Xia kingdom (1038—1227), and Genghis Khan’s mighty empire. The novel recreates the interactions between the Han Chinese agricultural society and the nomadic culture, portraying the latter as the force that helped sustain the Chinese civilization by periodically pumping fresh blood and energy into the Han culture whenever it began to show signs of decline.