Xue Yiwei’s stories shift from battles to one’s struggles
By Zhu Yuan(China Daily)
Updated: 2016-04-13 07:32:13
Xue Yiwei. [Photo provided to China Daily]
What does war mean to an individual? A very pertinent question in the context of fiction writer Xue Yiwei’s five war stories, which were published in English by Chinese Literature and Culture, an English-language literary magazine jointly published in the United States by IntLingo Inc, Westbury, New York and Zilin Ltd, Guangzhou.
Along with the five stories are commentaries, mostly by foreign literary critics, who try to delve into the stories for their literary value by deconstructing them.
The five stories are about the fate of individuals. In a preface to the collection, Xue writes: “The tension between history and the individual is one of the main areas I endeavor to explore in my writing, and war offers a particular means by which to access it.”
In The Veteran, the hero identified only as The First Lieutenant is able to relive only his part in the war. The trauma of war has upset his balance of past, present and future. Experience is no longer an arch through which things gleam but a solid wall blocking anything else from coming through. The past has taken over the individual.
God’s Chosen Photographer reflects absurdity and irony where the hero, who is mad about photography which he has learned from a foreigner, lies with his camera when he cheats the public with his picture of what is supposed to be “real” but is definitely not. His career starts as a war photographer, who is supposed to seek the meaning of life using his camera, but he endeavors to do so in vain.
In Winning the First Battle, the eldest son of a wealthy landowner is being groomed to eventually take his father’s place. However, the son rebels against his father and leaves home to join the revolutionary Red Army.
As he gets involved more deeply in the struggle, he rises to become a general. But with the revolution over, he now looks for deeper meaning in life and decides that he must reconcile with his father. Adhering to the centuries-old tradition of filial piety, he also wants to take care of his aged father.
Xue Yiwei. [Photo provided to China Daily]
On the way home, he tells his driver, the narrator of the story, of his tussles with his father. Through his stories of the death of his beloved mother, his father’s bid to keep the family stable and his struggles with his father, we see a man who finally comes to appreciate what his father wanted to do to secure a family life for him.
The son appreciates the fact that his father married three women after his first wife’s death in order to provide care and stability for the three children his first wife had given him.
We see in the general a prodigal son－one who is not ashamed of what his father did to preserve the family, but one who is eager to put the two parts of his life together.
It would be easy for readers to look down on the father as the one who tries to keep his son under control, but Xue does not present us with a father that we need to vilify.
The father represents everything that the revolution sought to abolish－aristocracy, wealth, bigamy－a privileged life that depended on the maintenance of an old society.
But the son does not hold this against his father as a revolutionary general might. Instead, the son, looking back on his life as a young man, understands that his father was trying only to create stability for his son, not to control him for any selfish purpose. The father wished for the son to have a stable life－the kind of life that he had.
In his review, Craig Hulst says that the hero of the story won the first battle with his father, but this victory cost him everything he later finds that he appreciates so much. He is supposed to find the meaning of life by leaving his stable home. But what meaning did he find from winning his first battle?
The five stories are about the way heroes search for the meaning of life from wars they get involved in, but none of them succeed. What happens in the war or what the war finally results in is not what they supposed it would bring about. The fact that they fail to come to terms with this reality should provide readers with some food for thought.