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Chinese Language Center

Chinese Literature Modern Fiction since the 1980s: Writing with an Attitude

The new millennium saw the emergence of "punk" or "hooligan literature" [流氓文學], epitomized by the writings of Wang Shuo. His frank descriptions of Beijing's underbelly, including excessive drinking, drug use, and casual sex are considered "spiritual pollutants" by the authorities. We have also seen the publications of a few novels written by "bad girl" writers, especially Wei Hui and Mian Mian. They have achieved more notoriety due to the sensational nature of their work (by PRC standards) and their subsequent banning than by the sophistication of their writing.

  Title Mini Review
Playing for Thrills
Written by Wang Shuo (1958- )
Translated by Howard Goldblatt
Penguin USA, 1998
336 pages
An example of "hooligan literature" often banned in the PRC. Fang Yan, an unemployed writer becomes the prime suspect of a murder that occurred 10 years earlier. The problem is that Fang Yan himself is not sure whether he is guilty or not so he goes around Beijing's underbelly searching for old friends and girlfriends that might give him a clue.
Please Don't Call Me Human
Written by Wang Shuo (1958- )
Translated by Howard Goldblatt
Oldcastle, 2000
320 pages
This darkly funny satire by Beijing's "hooligan" writer was first published in 1989. It is a biting satire of China's preoccupation with national pride and "saving face". After China's humiliating loss to an American at a wresting competition, a group of profiteers searches for a fighting hero to restore the country's pride. He is found in Tang Yuanbao, a Beijing pedicab driver. who then undergoes exorcism, drills, ballet lessons, and castration in preparation for his role.
Written by Mian Mian (1971-)
Translated by Andrea Lingenfelter
Back Bay Books, 2003
Mian Mian, China's original "bad girl" writer, was a former drug addict now working as a Shanghai rock-and-roll party promoter. Candy, modeled after the author's real life, tells the story of Hong, a young girl who drops out of high-school and moves to the city of Shenzhen (one of the freewheeling Special Economic Zones).  Once there, she dives into its world of sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll while searching unsuccessfully for love and self.
Shanghai Baby
Written by Wei Hui (1973-)
Translated by Bruce Humes
Pocket Books, 2002
Wei Hui, is China's other "bad girl" writer. This semi autobiographical novel tells the story of Coco, a Shanghai waitress and aspiring writer. She loves Tian Tian, a drug addicted artist but makes up for his impotence by maintaining an affair with a married German businessman. All of this is set in Shanghai's glittering world of nightclubs and hedonistic materialism. Do not expect high art with this book but consider it as a fun diversion from the tragic view that we get from China's more respected authors.
Modern Chinese Fiction