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Tuesday, May 14, 2002 - 19:30

A Great Writer: Wang Meng

Wang Meng

Italian Embassy

Wang Meng was twenty-two when he published in 1956, in a famed journal, a short story entitled "The Young Newcomer in the Organization Department". It roused immediate interest, but was also a debate, some denouncing and some praising its irreverence. In those days, writers were supposed to celebrate life in New China while Wang Meng, who had been a Party member since 1948 (he joined at 14), and a China Youth League leader since 1949, laced his story with subtle criticism “from inside”. He was blacklisted during the anti-rightist campaign (1957) and sent to distant Xinjiang, where he stayed until the end of the Cultural Revolution. Rehabilitated in 1978, he resumed his literary career while entering the Central Committee of the C.C.P., and even becoming, in 1986, Minister of Culture. Removed in 1989, he has stayed active in public life, as a member of the Standing Committee of the C.P.P.C.C., a vice-chairman of the Chinese writers Association, and a Professor at Nanjing University. Writing is, however, his main activity.

His short stories are famed for their footing in popular or bureaucratic life in China, for their irony and their play with various layers of language, including classical Chinese, and their poring into people's consciousness, through inner monologues. Whatever he writes and whatever techniques he uses, he is ever sensitive to the multiple and fast changing reality of China. Translated into English are some of his better known works including “Butterfly and Other Stories” (translated 1983), usually categorized as belonging to the “Scar Literature” that emerged after the Cultural Revolution (1977-1979). “Stubborn Porridge and Other Stories” (translated 1994), belongs in the “Modernist Movement” because of the bold techniques used (exploration of man's consciousness, play with words etc…)

Introducing himself in a collection of essays by contemporary writers about themselves (Zhongguo Zuojia Zi Shu), he does not list books and functions, he celebrates literature, “which is youth and life”…Which is “what is left of our life”. He muses on his future readers, on his books reaching new people and places, “because they have a soul more open and arms longer to embrace the planet, this world, and to embrace all my fellow men”. He celebrates the language, words, “a fortune more precious than any renminbi or dollar”. Using them, wasting them sometimes, he says he makes friends, he overcomes grief or tragedy, he makes fun of himself, or resuscitates from ashes. “Literature is a haven.”, says he, “It is action and non-action, a joy, a malady, a mean and an adventure, a God and a serf, our angel, a prostitute, a medicine, all and nothing”.