Yan Lianke

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Yan Lianke
Yanliankebcn.jpg
Born 1958
Henan, China
Occupation Writer
Nationality Han
Alma mater Henan University; People’s Literature Army Arts College
Period 1980 to now
Genre fiction, prose, script, literacy theory
Notable awards Lu Xun Literary Prize, Franz Kafka Prize
Spouse Zhai Lisha (December 7, 1957-)

Yan Lianke (simplified Chinese: 阎连科; traditional Chinese: 閻連科; pinyin: Yán Liánkē; Wade–Giles: Yen Lien-k'e, born 1958) is a Chinese writer of novels and short stories based in Beijing. His work is highly satirical, which has resulted in some of his most renowned works being banned.[1] He has admitted to self-censorship while writing his stories in order to avoid censorship.[2]

He started writing in 1978 and his works include: Xia Riluo (夏日落), Serve the People! (为人民服务), Enjoyment (受活), and Dream of Ding Village (丁庄梦). He has also published more than ten volumes of short stories. Enjoyment, which was published in 2004, received wide acclaim in China. His literature has been published in various nations, and some of his works have been banned in China.

Life[edit]

Yan Lianke was born in Song County, Henan Province, China. Though he lives in Beijing, he has said that his heart remains in Henan, and he has based numerous works on life in Henan, including Dream of Ding Village. He entered the army in 1978. He graduated from Henan University in 1985 with a degree in politics and education. In 1991, he graduated from the People's Liberation Army Art Institute with a degree in Literature.

Literary career[edit]

(1) Fictions

Yan published his first short story in 1979. So far he has published 14 novels and over 40 short stories. His novels include The Passing of Time [Riguang liunian], Hard as Water [Jianying rushui], Lenin’s Kisses [Shouhuo], Dream of Ding Village [Dingzhuang meng], Books of Odes [Feng ya song], The Four Books [Sishu], The Dimming Sun [Rixi];over 50 novellas including “The Dreams of the People of Yao Valley” [Yaogouren de meng], “Summer Sunset” [Xia riluo], “Years, Months, Days” [Nian yue ri], “Awaking in Spring Peach Garden” [Taoyuan chun xing]. His early writings are mostly Realist pieces heavily influenced by 19th century Realism. But towards the end of the 1990s his style displayed a major change. His subsequent works are more infused with wild imagination and creative allegories. His sometimes myth-like dramatic plots are often allegorical depictions of the human conditions. His representative works, including the novellas “Years Months Days” [Nian yue ri] and “Marrow” [Balou tiange], and the novel The Passing of Time [Riguang liunian] have received critical acclaim from critics. His “Peace Regiment Series”, “Yao Valley Series” and “Balou Mountain Series” are particularly influential. A good number of his fictions are set in the natural environment of Balou Mountain. It has become the most important setting of Yan’s literary world, and the most noted fictional landscape created in Chinese literature. This is particularly true with the publication of the “Balou Mountain Series” comprising The Passing of Time [Riguang liunian], Hard as Water [Jianying rushui] and Lenin’s Kisses [Shouhuo] around 2000. The depictions of Chinese history and reality in these novels are characterised by a sharp edge which is simultaneously profound, absurd and carnivalesque. Yan’s protagonists are strange in behavior, and psychologically twisted and complex. This represents another major change in Yan’s style from his earlier works. They often provoke surprise in his readers and critics, and debates and controversies at the time of their publication. Yan became “sensitive” in China at the time of publication of Lenin’s Kisses. He openly challenged what he described as Realism of the spirit(s) [Shengshi zhuyi], and advocated for a return to “a realism that transcends reality”[1]. This has revived the prolonged debate in the Chinese literary circles on Realism. In France, the French translation of Lenin’s Kisses has also received critical acclaim. Its translations in other languages have been equally popular. A writer of Le Monde rates Yan’s writings highly, and rates him one among the great writers in the world. The same writer suggests that Yan distinguishes himself with his sophisticated insights on the society expressed in his fictions, and that his writings often shows a devastating humour.[2] The Guardian describes him as a master of satire with a rich imagination[3]. Vanity Fair (Italy) notes Yan’s mastery in writing between magic and reality.[4]The Frankfurt Christian Science Monitor suggests that Yan possesses both the talent for writing great works and the courage to confront difficult issues[5]. The Japanese magazine The World considers Yan and his writings important setters of standard for Chinese literature and freedom of expression[6]. The bans imposed on Serve the People and Dream of Ding Village have turned him into the most noted, therefore the most controversial Chinese writer.”[7]. The Four Books was published in 2011 in Taiwan. In this novel Yan has shown attainment of his imagination to a new level. It was also around the same time when he advocated a Realism of the spirit(s) [Shengshi zhuyi] [8], purporting that Chinese literature should represent “the invisible reality”, “the reality that is covered up by reality”, and “the non-existing reality”. This advocacy in the construction of an “absolute reality” is put into practice in his own novels The Explosion Chronicles and The Dimming Sun. The characters in these works are “Chinese through-and-through”. Their plots are depictions of a reality that is “Chinese through-and-through”, but filled with imaginative “possibilities” and “mytho-realist” “impossibilities”, which express his vision of his China being a “dark”, “desperate” place where the idea of “future” only brings “anxieties”[9]. These works are his practice of his avowed aspiration in Discovering Fiction [Faxian xiaoshuo] to create a Chinese literature endowed with the modern spirit of world literature, and differentiate themselves from Western Surrealism, Absurdism and Magical Realism, and that is modern and belongs to the East. In this sense, Yan Lianke can be appreciated as a writer of world literature. His novels Serve the People, Dream of Ding Village, Lenin’s Kisses, The Four Books and The Explosion Chronicles have been translated into a number of languages and distributed widely in the Americas, Europe and the Australia. Almost all these translations have attracted attention and critical acclaim for the novels in their respective literary markets.

In terms of the contents, Yan’s fictions have all shown tremendous anxieties in his vision of “the Chinese people”, Chinese reality and history. In terms of generic treatment, every one of his novels has displayed a new structure and linguistic style. To many it is his diverse styles, his readiness to break norms, and his capacity to create new literary norms that have differentiate him from other Chinese writers. It is in this connection that he describes himself as “a traitor of literary writing”[10]. His is a pioneer of 20th Century Chinese literature, and is the only Chinese writer who has gained international acclaim without any support, either strategic or financial, of the Chinese Government.

(2)Literary Criticism

Yan is the only contemporary Chinese creative writer who has systematically published critical appreciations of 19th and 20th century literatures. These include numerous speeches and dialogues he has given and participated in around the globe, and various pieces of theoretical writings. They are collected in My Reality, My -ism [Wode xianshi, wode zhuyi], The Red Chopsticks of the Witch [Wupo de hong kuaizi], Tearing Apart and Piling Up [Chaijie yu dieping], Selected Overseas Speeches of Yan Lianke [Yan Lianke haiwai yanjiang ji], and Silence and Rest [Chenmo yu chuaixi]. In these works he expresses in detail his understanding of Chinese literature, world literature, and the changes literature has gone through in the past decades. His 2011 publication Discovering Fiction [Faxian xiaoshuo] is an exegesis of his re-discovery of 19th and 20th century Chinese literature and world literature. The book is characterised by his personal style of argument and rationality. It is also in this book that he advocates the differentiation of “full causal relations”, “zero causal relations”, “half causal relations” and “inner causal relations” in the plots of fiction. He considers this a “new discovery” of fiction writing, and designates it a “Mytho-realism”[11] of Chinese literature. This is the first attempt from a Chinese writer active in the international literary circles to contribute to the theoretical discussions of Realism in the global context. This view of his has been discussed in the academe internationally.

In 2016 Yan Lianke was appointed Visiting Professor of Chinese Culture by the Hong Kong University of Science Technology to teach writing courses. The course material is collected in Twelve Lectures on 19th Century Writings and Twelve Lectures on 20th Century Writings. They contain his analyses of and arguments about the most influential writers of world literature in the 19th and 20th centuries. Of the two Twelve Lectures on 20th Century Writings is more influential, since it represents an attempt of a Chinese writer to review and research on in a comprehensive manner the dissemination and impacts of 20th century world literature on China. It can be used as a research reference or a writing guide.

In the area of critical and theoretical writings, Yan Lianke is the most prolific and vocal among contemporary Chinese writers. Not all writers and critics agree with his views, but he is widely recognised as being unique among contemporary Chinese writer in terms of his persistence in reflecting on methodologies of creative writing.

(3)Essay

Yan Lianke’s body of creative works include not only fiction, but also a considerable number of lyrical essays which read in stark contrast to his fiction. While his fiction is characterised by an acute sense of contemporaneity, rich imagination and a compelling creative impulse, his essays are characterised by a conventional aesthetic of the Chinese essay which comes across as gentle, lyrical, and showing much finesse. His long essay My Father’s Generation and Me [Wo yu fubei], House No.711 [711 hao yuan] and his other collections of essays mostly depict the daily life of the Chinese people, and nature in the four seasons, in a lyricism that comes across familiar to Chinese readers. The styles of his fiction and that of his essays are so different that it is difficult to reconcile them as the same body of works by a single writer. His non-fiction works have created an image of the author in both positive and negative light, so that the author becomes a figure who is rich and multi-faceted in his personality.


[1] “Prologue”, Lenin’s Kisses.

[2] http://baike.baidu.com/view/294700.htm

[3] http://www.anyv.net/index.php/article-271557

[4] http://chuansong.me/n/2721032

[5] http://www.anyv.net/index.php/article-271557

[6] http://culture.ifeng.com/a/20160319/47974091_0.shtml

[7] Comment by Chinese literary scholar Chen Sihe.

[8] Yan Lianke, Discovering Fiction. (Nankai University Press, 2011).

[9] Yan Lianke, “The Individual who is Assigned by Heaven and Destiny to Feel Darkness”, acceptance speech of the Kafka Literary Prize.

[10] Yan Lianke, Prologue of The Four Books.

[11] Yan Lianke, Chapter 6, Discovery Fiction [Faxian xiaoshuo].

Famous works[edit]

Serve the People![edit]

This phrase was coined by Mao Zedong in 1944 when he wrote an article, "To Serve The People", to commemorate the death of a red army soldier Zhang Side (张思德). In that article Mao said:" To die for the benefit of the people, is more important than Tai mountain; working for the fascists and dying for those who oppress and exploit the people, that death would be lighter than a feather. Comrade Zhang Side died for the benefit of the people, so his death is heavier than Tai mountain."
During the Cultural Revolution, this article was required reading for millions of Chinese; it was also one of the Three Old Articles(老三篇). "To serve the people" became one of the most popular slogans of all times, even being used today. However, there was evidence suggested by author Jung Chang's book Mao: The Unknown Story, indicating that Comrade Zhang Si-De was in fact killed while processing raw opium when the kiln collapsed on him.

Yan Lianke used Mao's phrase for the name of his novel "Serve The People!", which contains vivid and colorful descriptions of sex scenes, resulting in extensive controversy when it was featured in 2005 in a magazine "Flower City". The Chinese government ordered the publisher to stop the release of 30,000 copies of the magazine, which in turn created huge demand for the novel.[1]

The storyline is similar to D. H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover: the younger wife (32 yrs) of an old and impotent army general (52 yrs), begins to seduce a soldier (28 yrs), assigned to do the domestic chores for the general. During a three-day run of sex, the soldier runs out of energy. They discovered that when he smashes a bust items with Mao Zedong's image, he can get aroused again. Afterward they smash or deface all of the Mao imagery in their residence to prove their love for each other. The story's background, the Cultural Revolution, means the main characters are fully aware of the consequences of smashing Mao's statues: death by firing squad.[3]

The novel was banned by the Chinese government at least partially because of its depiction of items related to Mao Zedong and political issues. It has been translated into French, Danish, German, Dutch, Italian, Czech and English.

Dream of Ding Village[edit]

Another award-winning novel by Yan Lianke, Dream of Ding Village (丁庄梦), is about a heavy subject: AIDS sufferers with almost no outside help. To get first hand knowledge about the subject, Yan Lianke visited AIDS sufferers, eventually seven times, and even lived with villagers for periods of time. Dream of Ding Village has been compared with Albert Camus' The Plague (1947). Dream of Ding Village was published in Hong Kong in 2006, where it was again banned by the Chinese government. The reasons put forward were its use of "dark descriptions, to exaggerate the harm and fear of AIDS".

Major Works[edit]

Yan started publishing in 1979. So far the body of works he has produced includes 15 novels, more than 50 novellas, more than 40 short stories, 3 extended essays, 5 collection of essays, 6 collections of literary criticisms, and about a dozen TV and film scripts, amount to over 10 million Chinese characters. However, because of both the controversial nature of and the Chinese government’s ban on his works, a considerable part of this body of works has not been published in China. These include the novels Serve the People [Wei renmin fuwu], Dream of Ding Village [Dingzhuang meng], The Four Books, [Sishu], The Dimming Sun [Rixi], and a range of his essays and speeches. Many of his works have been translated and circulated in more than 30 languages including English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Czech, Hungarian, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese and Mongolian.

Major Works published in Chinese:

Novels

Title Publisher Year
The Hell of Feelings

情感獄

PLA Art and Literature Press

解放軍文藝出版社

1991
The Last Female Educated Youth

最後一名女知青

Hundred Flowers Art and Literature Press

百花文藝出版社

1993
Crystal Yellow in Life and Death

生死晶黃

Tomorrow Publishing Company

明天出版社

1995
How are You, Pan Jinlian

金蓮,你好

China Art and Literature Press

中國文藝出版社

1997
The Passage of Time

日光流年

Huacheng Press

花城出版社

1998
Lianjing Publishing Co. Ltd. (Taipei)

聯經出版事業公司﹙台北﹚

2010
Hard as Water

堅硬如水

Changjiang Art and Literature Press

長江文藝出版社

2001
Rye Field Publishing House (Taipei)

麥田出版﹙台北﹚

2009
Cock Fight

斗雞

Changjiang Art and Literature Press

長江文藝出版社

2001
Transgression

穿越

PLA Art and Literature Press

解放軍文藝出版社

2001
Summer Sunset

夏日落

Lianjing Publishing Co. Ltd. (Taipei)

聯經出版事業公司﹙台北﹚

2010
Lenin’s Kisses

受活

Chunfeng Art and Literature Press

春風文藝出版社

2004
Rye Field Publishing House (Taipei)

麥田出版﹙台北﹚

2007
Dream of Ding Village

丁莊夢

Art and Literature Press (Hong Kong)

文化藝術出版社﹙香港﹚

2006
Rye Field Publishing House (Taipei)

麥田出版﹙台北﹚

2006
Lingzi Media Pte Ltd. (Singapore)

玲子傳媒私人有限公司

﹙新加坡﹚

2006
Serve the People

為人民服務

Rye Field Publishing House (Taipei)

麥田出版﹙台北﹚

2005
Lingzi Media Pte Ltd. (Singapore)

玲子傳媒私人有限公司

﹙新加坡﹚

2005
Art and Literature Press (Hong Kong)

文化藝術出版社﹙香港﹚

2005
The Odes of Songs

風雅頌

Rye Field Publishing House (Taipei)

麥田出版﹙台北﹚

2008
Phoenix Publishing Group

鳳凰出版集團

2008
The Four Books

四書

Rye Field Publishing House (Taipei)

麥田出版﹙台北﹚

2011
Ming Pao Publishing Ltd.

明報出版社﹙香港﹚

2011
The Explosion Chronicles

炸裂志

Shanghai Art and Literature Press

上海文藝出版社

2013
Rye Field Publishing House (Taipei)

麥田出版﹙台北﹚

2013
The Dimming Sun

日熄

Rye Field Publishing House (Taipei)

麥田出版﹙台北﹚

2015

Collections of Novellas and Short Stories

Title Publisher Year
Stories of the Neighbourhood

鄉里故事

Hundred Flowers Press

百花文藝出版社

1992
Peace Allegory

和平寓言

Changjiang Art and Literature Press

長江文藝出版社

1994
The Road to Heaven

朝着天堂走

China Youth Press

中國青年出版社

1995
Collected Works of Yan Lianke (5 volumes)

閻連科文集﹙5卷﹚

Jilin People’s Press

吉林人民出版社

1996
Collected Stories by Yan Lianke

閻連科小說自選集

Henan Art and Literature Press

河南文藝出版社

1997
Happy Home

歡樂家園

Beijing Press

北京出版社

1998
The Golden Cave

黄金洞

Literature Press

文學出版社

1998
Waxing and Waning: A Second Look on the Legendary Slut Pan Jinlian

陰晴圓缺:重說千古淫婦潘金蓮

China Literature Press

中國文學出版社

1999
To the Southeast

朝著東南走

Zuojia Press

作家出版社

2000
Marrow

耙耧天歌

Bei’e Art and Literature Press

北岳文藝出版社

2001
The Hammer

三棒槌

New World Press

新世界出版社

2002
Days in the Village

鄉村歲月

Xinjiang People’s Press

新疆人民出版社

2002
Years, Months, Days

年月日

Xinjiang People’s Press

新疆人民出版社

2002
Mingpao Publishing Ltd. (Hong Kong)

明報月刊出版社﹙香港﹚

2009
Works by Contemporary Writers: Yan Lianke

當代作家文庫 閻連科卷

People’s Literature Press

人民文學出版社

2003
The Map of Heaven

天宮圖

Jiangsu Art and Literature Press

江蘇文藝出版社

2005
Revolutionary Romanticism: Representative Short Stories of Yan Lianke

革命浪漫主義:閻連科短篇小說代表作

Chunfeng Art and Literature Press

春風文藝出版公司

2006
Mother is a River

母親是條河

Dazhong Art and Literature Press

大眾文藝出版社

2006
Dream of the People of Yao Valley

瑤溝人的夢

Chunfeng Art and Literature Press

春風文藝出版公司

2007
Works by Yan Lianke (12 volumes)

閻連科文集﹙12卷﹚

People’s Daily Press

人民日報出版社

Yunnan People’s Press,

Tianjin People’s Press

云南人民出版社、天津人民出版社

2007
Representative Works of Yan Lianke

(17 Volumes)

阎连科作品精选集(17卷)

No. Four Restricted Zone

The Map of Heaven

四號禁區

天宮圖

Wanjuan Publishing Co.

萬卷出版公司

2009
To the Southeast

朝着東南走

Wanjuan Publishing Co.

萬卷出版公司

2009
Representative Works of Yan Lianke

閻連科小說精選集

Sun Hung Kai Properties Arts Culture Co. (Taipei)

新地文化﹙台北﹚

2010
Awaking in the Cherry Garden

桃園春醒

Huangshan Books

黃山書社

2010
Geisha Blossoms: Novellas by Yan Lianke (Volume One) 1988-1990

藝妓芙蓉 :閻連科中篇小說編年 1988-1990

﹙第1輯﹚

Zhejiang Art and Literature Press

浙江文藝出版社

2011
The Scholar Returns: Novellas by Yan Lianke (Volume Two) 1991-1993

中士還鄉 :閻連科中篇小說編年 1991-1993

﹙第2輯﹚

Zhejiang Art and Literature Press

浙江文藝出版社

2011
Balou Mountains: Novellas by Yan Lianke (Volume Three) 1993-1996

耙耬山脉 :閻連科中篇小說編年 1993-1996

﹙第3輯﹚

Zhejiang Art and Literature Press

浙江文藝出版社

2011
Awaking in the Cherry Garden: Novellas by Yan Lianke (Volume Four) 1996-2009

桃園春醒:閻連科中篇小說編年 1996-2009

﹙第4輯﹚

Zhejiang Art and Literature Press

浙江文藝出版社

2011
Representative Works of Yan Lianke

閻連科短篇小說精選

Yunnan People’s Press

雲南人民出版社

2013
Yan Lianke in Black and White: Novella in Four Books (4 volumes)

黑白閻連科——中篇四書﹙四卷﹚

People’s Literature Press

人民文學出版社

2014
Two Fishes Culture (Taipei)

二魚文化﹙台北﹚

2014

Collections of Essays

Title Publisher Year
Brown Shackles

褐色桎梏

Hundred Flowers Art and Literature Press

百花文藝出版社

1999
Homeward Bound

返身回家

PLA Art and Literature Press

解放軍出版社

2002
The Witch’s Red Chopsticks: A Dialogue between a Writer and a Literature Ph.D. (Co-authored with Liang Hong)

巫婆的紅筷子:作家與文學博士對話錄

﹙與梁鴻合著﹚

Chunfeng Art and Literature Press

春風文藝出版社

2002
Transgression without Borders: Essays by Yan Lianke

没有邊界的跨越:閻連科散文

Changjiang Art and Literature Press

長江文藝出版社

2005
Yellow Earth and Green Grass: Yan Lianke’s Essays on Family and Feelings

土黄與草青:閻連科親情散文

Huacheng Press

花城出版社

2008
The Wit and the Soul: Yan Lianke’s Reading Notes

機巧與魂靈:閻連科讀書筆記

Huacheng Press

花城出版社

2008
Deconstruction and Juxtaposition: Speeches on Literature by Yan Lianke

拆解與疊拼:閻連科文學演講

Huacheng Press

花城出版社

2008
Essays by Yan Lianke

閻連科散文

Zhejiang Art and Literature Press

浙江文藝出版社

2009
Me and my Father’s Generation

我與父輩

INK (Taipei)

印刻文學﹙台北﹚

2009
Yunnan People’s Press

雲南人民出版

2009
My Reality, My -isms: A Dialogue with Yan Lianke on Literature (co-authored with Zhang Xuexin)

我的現實,我的主義:閻連科文學對話錄

﹙與張學昕合著﹚

Renmin University of China Press

中國人民大學出版社

2011
Let’s Go and See

走着瞧

Eastern Publishing Centre

東方出版中心

2011
Discovering Fiction

發現小說

Nankai University Press

南開大學出版社

2011
INK (Taipei)

印刻文學﹙台北﹚

2011
No. 711

711 號園

Jiangsu People’s Press

江蘇人民出版社

2012
Lianjing Publishing Ltd. (Taipei)

聯經出版社﹙台北﹚

2012
A Load of BS: Yan Lianke’s Overseas Speeches

一派胡言:閻連科海外演講集

CITIC Publishing Group

中信出版社

2012
Essays by Yan Lianke

閻連科散文

Yunnan People’s Press

雲南人民出版社

2013
The Most Difficult Thing about Writing is to Stay Confused

寫作最難是糊塗

Renmin University of China Press

中國人民大學出版社

2013
His Words Scatter on the Way

他的話一路散落

Renmin University of China Press

中國人民大學出版社

2013
Thoughts by One Person on Three Rivers

一個人的三條河

感念

Two Fishes Culture (Taipei)

二魚文化﹙台北﹚

People’s Literature Press

人民文学出版社

2013
           2014
Walking on Other People’s Path: Reflections of Yan Lianke

走在別人的路上:閻連科語思錄

Shanghai People’s Press

上海人民出版社

2014
Yan Lianke in Black and White: Essays in Four Books (4 volumes)

黑白閻連科——散文四書﹙四卷﹚

People’s Literature Press

人民文學出版社

2014
Silence and Rest: Chinese Literature in My Experience

沉默與喘息:我所經歷的中國文學

INK (Taipei)

印刻﹙台北﹚

2014
December of Two Generations

兩代人的十二月﹙與蔣方舟合著﹚

INK (Taipei)

印刻﹙台北﹚

2015

Awards and honors[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

Novels[edit]

This is a partial list of Lianke's novels, especially those translated into English.

Original publication English publication
Title[6] Year Title Translator(s) Year
日光流年
Riguang Liunian
2004 N/A N/A N/A
受活
Shou Huo
2004 Lenin's Kisses Carlos Rojas 2012
为人民服务
Wei Renmin Fufu
2005 Serve the People! Julia Lovell 2007
丁庄梦
Ding Zhuang Meng
2006 Dream of Ding Village Cindy Carter 2011
坚硬如水
Jianying Ru Shui
2009 N/A N/A N/A
四书
Si Shu
2011 The Four Books Carlos Rojas 2015
炸裂志
Zhalie Zhi
2013 The Explosion Chronicles Carlos Rojas 2016[7]
日熄
Ri Shi
2015 N/A N/A N/A

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Toy, Mary-Anne (2007-07-28), "A pen for the people", The Age, retrieved 2010-04-28 
  2. ^ Cody, Edward (2007-07-09), "Persistent Censorship In China Produces Art of Compromise", Washington Post, retrieved 2010-04-28 
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