Zhang Xianliang


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Zhang Xianliang

(jäng shyän-lyäng), 1936–, Chinese writer. During the 1957 antirightist campaign, the Chinese Communists judged his poetry deviant and sentenced him to prison in Ningxia. He was later transferred to a labor reform camp, where he remained for most of the next two decades. After his release in 1979, he began to write fiction that depicts life along China's western frontier and often reflects critically on his own experiences in China's labor camps. His controversial Half of Man Is Woman (1985, tr. 1986) is an autobiographical novel about a man's life in the camps and his sexual difficulties after his release. Through dreams, fantasy, and other modernist devices he develops the theme that Chinese intellectuals have been psychologically emasculated. His labor camp experiences are also the subject of Grass Soup (1992, tr. 1994), an expanded version of the secret diary he kept while imprisoned. Zhang's other writings include Mimosa and Other Stories (1985), Getting Used to Dying (1989, tr. 1991), and My Bodhi Tree (1994, tr. 1996).
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After the first two theoretical chapters the book moves on to read a host of literary texts by Zhang Xianliang, Liu Heng, Han Shaogong, and Wang Shuo and others, extending into the cultural phenomena in the 1980s.
Zhang Xianliang is one of the few major contemporary writers whose recent works suggest that a literary exploration of the recent cultural inheritance from the 1950s and 1960s is essential to a nuanced understanding of the contemporary Chinese cultural scene.
Widespread nostalgia for the Cultural Revolution and the revival of Mao-worship in the 1990s suggest to Zhang Xianliang that too few in his country have learned anything from the senseless privations and regimentation he and so many others endured for two decades.
In 1957, at the age of 21, Zhang Xianliang, known to Western readers for his autobiographical novel Half of Man Is Woman, was sent to a labor camp in northwestern China because he wrote a poem the Communist Party considered politically incorrect.
One wonders what has happened to authors like Zhang Xianliang, Wang Anyi, Su Tong, and others.
Zhang Xianliang, one of a tiny handful of contemporary Chinese novelists whose fiction has received high marks from Western writers like Josef Skvorecky and John Updike, has explored the creative potential of vexation in his latest book.