Photo by Liu Caixia
and letters, detailing the countless problems and worries arising from her daily work of settling disputes between farmers and intercepting petitioners. “I thought I would soon tire of her, but I found her words so surprisingly precise that I would look forward to her messages and letters,” Jia wrote in the book’s afterword. As they became increasingly familiar, the woman started to mail Jia various government documents related to her work, parts of which Jia published in his book. “She wrote to me every day, rambling on at me just like my niece…I suddenly had an impulse to write about her,” Jia said in the afterword. In order to experience the life the woman described, Jia went to visit her at work. She took him on a tour of the villages under her
administration, showing him how she settled feuds between locals and scared away petitioners. During her free time, he went with her into the mountains, where he witnessed her transformation into “a pretty girl wandering in the hills, picking flowers, eating wild fruit and sleeping on the grass.” “Dai Deng was like a wild flower on the mountain, pleasant and clean, wise and aloof. But it happened that this independent woman had been thrown into the quagmire of grassroots officialdom, and had become polluted,” Jia wrote in the afterword. “As I delved deeper into the circle [of rural officials] with my writing, I felt increasingly sad about Dai Deng, the embodiment of [the predicament of] a rural grassroots official, torn between pressure from her superiors to maintain social stability, and her own sympathy for the farmers,” he continued.
Photo by cfp
Jia Pingwa shows the manuscript of of his Mao Dun Prize-winning book Shaanxi Opera, October 2008
CHINA WEEKLY I March 2013
Jia’s sympathy for Dai offended a number of critics, who accused him of “portraying rural officials as chaste little fairies, while painting farmers as stupid, greedy rogues.” His narrative style, with its excessive detail and overabundance of characters, also came in for heavy criticism. “The details in Dai Deng are no more exciting than those in the daily news. Jia neither turns insight into art, nor adopts a clear and critical standpoint – this ‘light’ is too dim to brighten China,” wrote critic Cai Jiayuan in a local newspaper in Hubei Province. “My style is similar to that of the Barcelona soccer team,” Jia argued. “Different from traditional teams that are clearly divided into offensive and defensive players, the Barcelona players, no matter what position they play in, make a complex series of passes before suddenly scoring…The details in my book are like these passes.” This description is actually more applicable to Jia’s previous work Shaanxi Opera, a novel portraying rural life in the early 21st century. Although the book won China’s prestigious Mao Dun Prize for Literature in 2008, it was heavily criticized for its “confusing details” and “obscure local dialects,” with many critics com-
April 2013 Issue