Pa Chin (Pseudonym of Li Fei-Kan) Olga Lang - Essay

Olga Lang

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

More than any other modern Chinese writer, Pa Chin throughout his career has been the spokesman for youth. He wrote for youth and about youth, mainly about the young intellectuals. Pa Chin's works present a composite portrait of the young men of China in a transitional period, a counterpart of the portrait of Western young men in nineteenth-century European literature.

When describing his young contemporaries, Pa Chin portrays a variety of types, including those who live according to the traditional Chinese pattern, and those who espouse modern individualism and live a selfish life unmindful of the fate of their fellow countrymen. He concentrates his attention, however, on those who, to use his own words, "began to shoulder the responsibility for their country." The main characters of almost all of his novels are rebels and revolutionists. (pp. 2-3)

Pa Chin was not only a creative writer who described society but a revolutionary who wanted to change it…. [He] stated that he was so completely absorbed in the substance of his novels and short stories that he could not pay attention to their form. (p. 4)

Pa Chin describes the critical years [in China] from 1919 to 1923 in his most popular literary work, the trilogy Chi-liu (Turbulent stream), which consists of the three novels Chia (Family), Ch'un (Spring), and Ch'iu (Autumn). (p. 70)

[Principally] the trilogy deals with family life, and provides a rich source of information on the mores and inner relationships which characterized the upper-class Chinese family in this period of transition.

The picture it paints is a dark one. The author wanted "to utter his J'accuse to the dying family system," and he succeeded. Nevertheless, there are many poetic and warm descriptions of the traditional life, with its family gatherings, festivities, literary games and discussions, walks in the park, and boat rides on the lake. (p. 72)

Turbulent Stream is the most outstanding modern Chinese family novel, and as such it reminds one of Ts'ao Hsüehch'in's famous eighteenth-century family novel Hung lou meng (The dream of the red chamber). Of course the two works are not on the same level as far as their artistic qualities are concerned. Turbulent Stream does not possess the philosophical force, psychological depth, powerful characterization, or poetry of the eighteenth-century classic. (p. 83)

Autumn Day is unique among young Pa Chin's novels not only because it ends on a definitely pessimistic note, but also because there is not a single fighter or revolutionary among its characters—they are all simply victims of the old Chinese way of life. (p. 147)

The mixture of romanticism and realism characteristic of Pa Chin's creative writing would justify considering him a representative of the literary trend which in the 1930's received in Soviet Russia the name of "socialist realism." In his novels Pa Chin is more optimistic than most of the prominent modern Chinese writers of his and the preceding generation, and he is more inclined to depict characters who fight for a better future. (p. 158)

The most important of Pa Chin's contributions to the history of the young Chinese revolutionary intellectuals in the prewar Kuomintang period is a series of novels: Wu (Fog), (Rain), Tien (Lightning), and the novelette Lei (Thunder) which served as an introduction to Lightning. These were later published under the one title Ai-ch'ing ti san-pu-ch'ü (Love, a trilogy)….

The trilogy deals with many problems: revolution, revolutionary tactics, political faith, the purpose of human life, friendship, family, marriage, and love. The author's main concern, however, is the creation of characters, of men and women in the strata of Chinese society he knew intimately. As usual, in describing each of his characters he has as his starting point persons he knew…. He succeeded, however, in turning them into typical men and women of the time. (p. 171)

Like almost all Pa Chin's fiction, Love had a definite didactic purpose: to show its readers how to live, to give them models for emulation. This is especially true of the last part of the trilogy, Lightning. After writing it, Pa Chin felt that this story "was like lightning illuminating the dark skies." (p. 172)

[In general, however, Love] is less well-written than Pa Chin's autobiographical trilogy, and the characters here are less convincing. (p. 173)

Certainly Pa Chin's success was due mainly to the substance of his stories…. [But he] is much more skillful in his craft than he wants to admit. He knows how to tell a story and the new literary devices...

(The entire section is 1991 words.)