Red Sorghum (novel)

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Red Sorghum
Cover of 1993 English translation
AuthorMo Yan
Original title红高粱家族 Hong Gao Liang Jia Zu
TranslatorHoward Goldblatt (1993)
Set in20th-century Shandong
Publication date

Red Sorghum: A Novel of China or Red Sorghum Clan (simplified Chinese: 红高粱家族; traditional Chinese: 高粱家族; pinyin: Hóng Gāoliáng Jiāzú; literally: 'red sorghum family') is a Chinese language novel by Mo Yan. Published in 1986, it was Mo's first novel and remains one of his best-known works.[1][2][3]

The novel consists of the volumes "Red Sorghum", "Sorghum Wine", "Dog Ways", "Sorghum Funeral", and "Strange Death", which were first serialized in various magazines in 1986. "Dog Ways" was published in the April 1986 issue of Shiyue ("October" magazine); "Sorghum Wine" in the July 1986 issue of PLA Arts, "Sorghum Funeral" in the August 1986 issue of Beijing Wenxue and "Strange Death" in the November–December issue of Kunlun magazine.[4] It was the magazine serializations before the publication of the full novel in 1987 which were seen by director Zhang Yimou, who immediately proposed to Mo Yan to make the novel into a film.[5] The next year the novel was published, and almost simultaneously the 1987 Chinese-language film Red Sorghum won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. It was initially given an ad hoc English title "The Red Sorghum Clan" in some sources (Wang 1996)[6] but was translated from the Chinese by Howard Goldblatt in 1993 with the subtitle "Red Sorghum - A Novel of China".

Red Sorghum's plot revolves around three generations of the Shandong family between 1923 and 1976. The narrator tells the story of his family's struggles, first as distillery owners making sorghum wine and then as resistance fighters during the Second Sino-Japanese War. The novel also details civil disputes between warring Chinese groups, including rival gangs and political powers. The book also refers to the Cultural Revolution and the 1972 resumption of diplomatic relations between China and Japan.

Mo Yan employs a terse style in the novel that is characterized by brevity and non-chronological storytelling written in the first-person. The work contains elements of folk-tale that blend into myth and superstition, placing it in the magic-realist genre.

As the principal crop of Shandong province's Northeast Gaomi Township (the author's hometown), red sorghum (sorghum bicolor) frames the narrative as a symbol of indifference and vitality. Amidst decades of bloodshed and death, it grows steadfast to provide food, shelter, wine and life.


  1. ^ Shelley W. Chan World Literature Today 2000 p495 "Fin 1987, Mo Yan published Honggaoliang jiazu (Eng. Red Sorghum), a novel set in his Shandong hometown of Northeast Gaomi Township. Relating the story of a peasant family from 1923 to 1976, this first novel is about ..."
  2. ^ A Subsersive Voice in China: The Fictional World of Mo Yan 2011 "Mo Yan, The Red Sorghum Family, 2. Translation from Mo Yan, Red Sorghum: A Novel of China, trans. Howard Goldblatt,"
  3. ^ Edward L. Davis Encyclopedia of Contemporary Chinese Culture 2012 "He first published in 1981 and is best known for his 1986 novel, Red Sorghum (Hong gaoliang), which is a firstperson account of a grandson's visit to his ancestral home and his retelling of its history during the Japanese invasion."
  4. ^ 叶开 莫言评传 2008 p270 "作为《红高粱家族》系列长篇小说中的第三部,中篇小说《狗道》发表于《十月》杂志 1986 年第 4 期,第二部《高粱酒》发表于《解放军文艺》 1986 年第 7 期,第四部《高粱殡》发表于《北京文学》 1986 年第 8 期,第五部《奇死》发表于《昆仑》 1986 年第 6 期。
  5. ^ Zhang Yimou: interviews p 3 Frances K. Gateward - 2001 "I didn't know Mo Yan; I first read his novel, Red Sorghum, really liked it, and then gave him a phone call. Mo Yan suggested that we meet once. It was April and I was still filming Old Well, but I rushed to Shandong — I was tanned very dark then ..."
  6. ^ Jing Wang - High Culture Fever: Politics, Aesthetics, and Ideology in Deng's China -1996 p187 "Yet The Red Sorghum Clan is by no means a clear-cut case of classic modernism. Although framed in a temporal limbo somewhere between the past and the present that bears close resemblance to the root-searching literature, the novel ...