Unlike Chinese feminist writer Ding Ling, Xiao Hong seldom addresses gender issues. Although her autobiographical novels Tales of Hulan River and Market Streets reveal a feminist consciousness, her short stories mainly deal with the suffering of the victimized in society and the Chinese mentality during national crisis. Perhaps because of this broad perspective, in 1936 Lu Xun remarked that Xiao Hong “is the most promising of our women writers, and shows possibilities of becoming as much in advance of Miss Ting Ling as the latter was in succeeding Miss Bing Xin.” Xiao Hong’s special contribution to women’s literature is her writing style. Her writing has two prominent features. First is her artistic use of autobiographical materials. Unlike her contemporaries, Xiao Hong was never obsessed with modern solipsism. In her writing, the narrator serves as an objective witness and a natural voice of history. She resists conventional characterization. Her characters, including the narrator, merge with place, rituals, customs, and everyday happenings. Although Xiao Hong was influenced by Agnes Smedley’s autobiographical art in The Daughter of Earth and Upton Sinclair’s social realistic representation in The Jungle, her writing remains distinctively Chinese. The second feature of her writing is a distinctively female style. Although Xiao Hong also wrote about class oppression and war, her style was different from those of the male writers of her time. Her style, as is shown in the story “Bridge” in this collection, is fluid and vocal, a style that anticipates that of the Brazilian woman writer Clarice Lispector.
Xiao Hong’s short stories cover three major subjects: victimized Chinese women, class conflict, and anti-Japanese warfare. In six out of the nine stories, women are the protagonists. Xiao Hong’s literary women, in the feudalistic context, have three major images: the unmitigated victim, the loving mother, and the mute daughter. Wang Asao’s death during childbirth evokes pity because she was a loving mother who took in the little waif and cradled Big Brother Wang’s bones when he was persecuted by the landlord and lost the sympathy of his fellow villagers. Huang Liangzi is also portrayed as a sacrificing mother whose love for children could even bridge the class gap momentarily. The helpless Wang Yaming has the responsibility to take care of her younger brothers and sisters as well as to pass on to them the lessons she has learned at school. These twin images of women help raise the unmitigated victim to the pedestal of a noble mother. The muted daughters in the stories show a progressive transformation. Jade dies tragically because of her muteness. Li Ma begins to fantasize her love with Jin Lizhi. Aunt Wuyun becomes a story weaver. The narrator in nearly all the stories is Xiao Hong herself. By orally weaving stories and by writing, a woman starts to assert herself gently.
Class consciousness pervades Xiao Hong’s stories. Xiao Hong was born into a wealthy landlord family. She witnessed her father’s cruelty toward the peasants. In “Wang Asao,” peasants are helpless insects in the palm of Landlord Zhang. Yet Xiao Hong also portrays them as “class equals” who address one another as brothers and sisters. It is their blindness to the cause of their poverty rather than poverty itself that reduces them to unmitigated victims. In “The Bridge,” Huang Liangzi’s efforts to bridge...
(The entire section is 849 words.)