YellowBridge Chinese Language & Culture
Chinese Language Center

Chinese Literature Modern Fiction since the 1980s:
Economic Liberalization and its Aftermath

China's economic liberalization that started of the 1980s would not be extended into the political arena, as the 1989 events in Tiananmen Square would make abundantly clear. The Tiananmen events themselves have not been addressed (or, most likely, not been allowed to be addressed) by any any writer living in China. However, novels that criticize lower-level government bureaucrats have been published although have have been subsequently banned.

As China entered the new millennium, economic progress continued to be made. A new spirit of entrepreneurship and the best and worst features of market economies, including rising unemployment and lack of social safety nets became facts of life. The new make-a-quick-buck mentality, conspicuous consumption in the big cities, and the unevenness of the economic progress have given fodder to a new generation of talented writers, such as Liu Heng and Mo Yan.

  Title Mini Review
Chairman Mao Would Not Be Amused: Fiction from Today's China
Edited by Howard Goldblatt
Grove Press, 1996
321 pages
An anthology of modern Chinese fiction written between 1985 and 1993. It was edited by Howard Goldblatt, who has done superb translations of many contemporary Chinese novels, including some of the writers featured in the anthology. Writers represented by this collection of twenty stories include Mo Yan (Red Sorghum), Su Tong (Raise the Red Lantern), and Wang Meng (former Minister of Culture).
The Republic of Wine
Written by Mo Yan (1956-)
Translated by Howard Goldblatt
Arcade Publishing, 2001
384 pages
An amazing satire by the author of "Red Sorghum" in which he makes fun of the Chinese obsession with food and wine, an obsession that is taken to extremes even in a Communist-ruled society. The story follows Ding Gou'er, a government inspector who is sent to the fictional province of Liquorland to investigate rumors of cannibalism. Soon enough,  he is treated to a feast full of alcohol and what appears to be a braised tender boy.  But under the influence of alcohol, he can't be sure whether he is eating the real thing or an amazing imitation constructed of sausage, lotus roots, and other vegetables.
Shifu, You'll Do Anything for a Laugh
Written by Mo Yan (1956-)
Translated by Howard Goldblatt
Arcade Publishing, 2003
212 pages
A collection of eight stories written over the past twenty years. The title novella tells the story of old Ding, who has earned the honorific of Shifu thanks to his 43 year service to the factory. Nevertheless, he is laid off a month short of retirement. Should he set himself on fire to protest? No, he decides to turn entrepreneurial and converts and old bus into a rental cottage for lovers.
Big Breasts and Wide Hips
Written by Mo Yan (1956-)
Translated by Howard Goldblatt
Arcade Publishing, 2003
576 pages
Mo Yan summarizes twentieth century China through one woman.  Mother was born in 1900 and married at seventeen. She has nine children, all but one girls. Each of the seven chapters covers a different time period, starting with the end of the Qing dynasty, continuing with the Japanese invasion, the civil war, the Cultural Revolution, and the post-Mao era.
The Garlic Ballads
Written by Mo Yan (1956-)
Translated by Howard Goldblatt
Penguin USA, 1996
This novel by the author of "Red Sorghum" is set in 1980s rural China. Garlic farmers have a bumper crop that turns into a disaster because there is a glut in the market. The ensuing riot and sacking of the local government office becomes the backdrop for three intertwined stories of love, family, and loyalty.
Written by Jia Pingwa
Translated by Howard Goldblatt
Grove Press, 2003
464 pages
First published in 1987, the novel was awarded the 1991 Pegasus Prize for Literature. The story is set in a rural village in the 1980s, soon after Deng Xiaoping started the market liberalization era.  Golden Dog, an idealistic journalist fights corrupt officials and family clans but in the process loses self-respect and the girl he loves. The novel is a combination love story and political parable.
Modern Chinese Fiction