Robert E. Hegel
Fortress Besieged narrates the misadventures of an ineffectual returned student, Fang Hung-chien, in his travels, his first teaching position and his marriage. In every situation Fang is the victim of his own bungling: he fails to hide the proofs of his brief shipboard romance, his falsified academic credentials, his lack of genuine feeling for and sensitivity to his bride. He is emotionally and morally immature from the beginning; he makes no progress through his experiences. Each character he encounters is as shallow as he; Ch'ien Chung-shu caricatures the ridiculous posturing of each, pseudo-intellectual and common person alike. The list of human foibles laid bare is nearly inexhaustible…. Usually his exposure is accomplished through pointed similes, occasionally placed in the mouths of characters but far more commonly presented as epigrams in narrative asides ("heads of organizations are like the midwinter sun or that once-in-a-lifetime stroke of luck: they come late and leave early"). Most involve references to classical and Western languages …, literature, philosophy and the like. In fact, one gets the impression that were all the similes to be removed, the text would be a small fraction of its present length.
But despite the nearly smothering weight of so much sarcasm, Fortress Besieged still manages to have a substantial plot and to present a rather profound vision of its intellectual protagonist. It seems to...
(The entire section is 443 words.)