Notice how war tragedy is always a huge theme in the Chinese literary scene? These are the novels and poetry anthologies by modern Chinese authors that you should stock your shelves with.
While we love to get out and about on the weekend, go camping, or attend different creative workshops, we also love to stay in and read our favourite graphic novels. If you’re more of a homebody like we are, check out our a list of books by our favourite modern Chinese authors, some of whom are the most influential authors beyond their country. Now, you know what you should start reading next.
Books by modern Chinese authors that you should put on your bookshelves
1. Call to Arms by Lu Xun (1922)
Call to Arms (吶喊) features a number of short stories by Lu Xun (魯迅), including “A Madman’s Diary”, “Medicine”, and “The True Story of Ah Q”. Having made satirical and brutal critique on humanity and antiquated social conventions, Lu Xun’s works reveal his strong desire for revolution and changes, making Call to Arms one of most influential books by a Chinese author in the last century.
2. A Maze of Stars and Spring Water by Bing Xin (1923)
If you’ve attended a local school in Hong Kong, chances are you would’ve encountered the compositions by Bing Xin (冰心), who’s widely known for her works in Chinese literature for children and young adults. A compilation of poems written when she was just 19 years old, A Maze of Stars and Spring Water (繁星‧春水) comprises selected works by the esteemed Chinese female author during her early career. These poems show influences from the historical May Fourth Movement and New Literature Movement, and are considered representatives of the short poetry genre.
3. The Field of Life and Death by Xiao Hong (1935)
The Field of Life and Death (生死場) portrays peasant life from the 1920s to early 1930s, mainly emphasising the suffering and mistreatment of women. As one of the most successful female Chinese authors ever, Xiao Hong (蕭紅) dealt with more misfortune than one could ever take – losing her mother at a young age, being abandoned by her fiancé soon after she got pregnant, almost being sold to a brothel, and eventually passing away during wartime in Hong Kong.
4. Red Sorghum Clan by Mo Yan (1987)
The first Chinese author to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, Mo Yan (莫言) is best known for his novel Red Sorghum Clan (紅高粱家族). This book is a compilation of five short stories: “Red Sorghum”, “Sorghum Wine”, “Dog Ways”, “Sorghum Funeral”, and “Strange Death”; the first two were adapted by the esteemed director, Yimou Zhang, to create the film Red Sorghum in the following year. As a series, Red Sorghum was about a family in Shandong, China, who ran a sorghum wine distillery between the 1920s and 70s. This was a turbulent period in Chinese history, with the Second Sino-Japanese War, the rivalry between global and regional political powers, and the Cultural Revolution. But instead of a strictly documentary approach, Mo Yan tells the story with elements of folk-tale, mythology, and superstition. For those of you interested in modernist Chinese literature, Red Sorghum Clan is definitely well worth reading.
5. To Live by Yu Hua (1993)
Having gambled away all his money, losing his mother to detrimental illness and getting caught up in the misfortune of the Chinese Revolution, protagonist Fugui’s life took a 180-degree turn. Hua Yu’s (余華) To Live (活着) is a story about losing loved ones to injustice and natural selection in times of political violence. Many historical events in China such as Great Leap Forward, Three-anti and Five-anti Campaigns are also mentioned in the story.
6. The Rose of Time: New and Selected Poems by Bei Dao (2010)
Bei Dao (北島) is one of the most successful contemporary Chinese poets. His works articulate the bitterness of living in fraught political times and being separated from his family due to political issues. As one of his representative works, The Rose of Time is heartfelt, astonishingly beautiful, and very melancholic.
7. The Flowers of War by Geling Yan (2012)
Geling Yan’s (嚴歌苓) The Flowers of War (金陵十三釵) is based on true stories that happened during the Nanjing Massacre in 1937. After an American missionary took in a group of schoolgirls, prostitutes, and wounded soldiers in his church, The Flowers of War followed how the situation got chaotic when Japanese soldiers are outside, figuring a way in to attack. While the novel and the adapted film (again by Yimou Zhang) illustrate the brutality by the Japanese army at the time, The Flowers of War is an epic work that is not to be missed.