Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 743
Zhang Jie (jong jay) is the best-known contemporary Chinese woman writer. Her first novel, Heavy Wings , won the Mao Dun National Award for Novels in 1985 (an award granted once every three years); it has been translated and published in Germany, France, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark, Holland, Great Britain,...
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- Critical Essays
Zhang Jie (jong jay) is the best-known contemporary Chinese woman writer. Her first novel, Heavy Wings, won the Mao Dun National Award for Novels in 1985 (an award granted once every three years); it has been translated and published in Germany, France, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark, Holland, Great Britain, United States, Spain, Brazil, and Russia. Since 1978, she has published numerous stories and won various prizes. Two collections of her stories, Love Must Not Be Forgotten and As Long as Nothing Happens, Nothing Will, are widely studied in European and American college classrooms. As Long as Nothing Happens, Nothing Will won the Italian Malaparte Literary Prize, an honor also accorded such well-known Western writers as Anthony Burgess and Saul Bellow.
Zhang was born in 1937. During World War II, her father left the family, and her mother, a teacher, brought her up in a village in Liaoning Province. From childhood she showed a strong interest in music and literature. After graduating from the People’s University of Beijing in 1960, she was assigned to one of the industrial ministries. Her novella Heavy Wings and short story “Today’s Agenda” benefit from her acquaintance with industrial management and bureaucracy. Later Zhang transferred to the Beijing Film Studio, where she wrote film scripts. She started to write fiction at the age of forty, near the end of the Cultural Revolution, and in 1978 her story “The Music of the Forest” won a prize as one of the best short stories of the year. In 1979 she won another national short-story award for “Who Lives a Better Life”; “Love Must Not Be Forgotten” also became a widely read and controversial story. In 1985 she reached the climax of her literary career by winning the Mao Dun National Novel Award for Heavy Wings and the National Novella Award for Emerald, which appeard in Love Must Not Be Forgotten. Zhang actively participates in international creative activities. She has visited West Germany and America and was a visiting professor at Wesleyan University from 1989 to 1990. Zhang has been a council member of the Chinese Writers’ Association and the vice chair of Beijing Association of Writers.
Zhang is known as a tough woman. She took part in many political movements and joined the Chinese Communist Party at an early age. Although she mercilessly dissects the causes of China’s backwardness, which she attributes to feudal ideology as well as to the corruption of the Communist Party, she firmly defends the socialist system as best suited to China. Despite her support for socialism and genuine Marxism, however, she is often criticized inside China for her liberal tendencies. She proudly admits that she loves to read Western novels, particularly those of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Like Dai Houying, Wang Anyi, and other contemporary Chinese writers, she believes that the humanism in classical Western literature is something Chinese people should learn. She has been influenced by Western Romanticism as well as by social critical realism; she stresses love and sacrifice, conscience and responsibility in all her writings.
Zhang is also a pioneering feminist writer. She has one daughter, and she has been divorced twice because she could not tolerate men who attempted to dominate her. As a result of her bitter experiences of discrimination against women, especially divorced and unmarried ones, Zhang attacks male supremacy and patriarchal ideology in the Chinese social structure as well as in the consciousness and subconsciousness of every man. She staunchly insists on a woman’s right to remain single and free from sexual harassment and political discrimination. Like early feminist writers in the West, however, she regards denial of sexuality as necessary to achieve female autonomy.
Zhang writes on a number of themes with various characters. From national political and economic reform to individual daily problems; from unmarried girls’ idealistic pursuits to divorced women’s struggles against alienation; and from doctors’ housing problems to an intellectual’s vicissitudes, she writes in a vigorous, fresh, and romantic style. Her work has received considerable critical acclaim both in China and abroad. As a feminist writer, she has forged a distinctive style that blends utopian idealism with social reality in her exploration of women’s problems concerning love, marriage, and career. As a social critic, she exposes China’s hidden corruption and stubborn bureaucracy and vehemently champions democratic reform through literary means. For her integrated concern for women and society, Zhang can be compared with such Western writers as Doris Lessing, Marge Piercy, and Ursula Le Guin.