Although Zhang Jie started writing fiction in her early forties, she has become one of the best-known Chinese women writers in the modern world. Her first novel Heavy Wings won the Maodun National Award for novels in 1985 (an award granted once every three years), and it has been translated and published in a dozen countries: Germany, France, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark, Holland, Great Britain, the United States, Spain, Brazil, and the Soviet Union. Her second novel, Zhi you yi ge taiyang, was translated and published in Holland in 1988. Zhang, however, is better known as a short-story writer. In 1978, she began publishing numerous stories and subsequently 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 Malaparte Literary Prize (Italy), a prize that has been won by famous writers such as Anthony Burgess and Saul Bellow.
Zhang’s work has received considerable critical attention both in China and abroad. A feminist writer, she has forged a distinctive style that blends well her utopian idealism with social reality in her exploration of women’s problems concerning love, marriage, and career. A social critic, she exposes China’s hidden corruption and stubborn bureaucracy and vehemently champions the causes of democracy and reform through her literary forms. For her integrated concern for women and society, Zhang can be compared with Western writers such as Doris Lessing, Marge Piercy, and Ursula K. Le Guin. Her sentimental idealism and militant tone, however, have sometimes irritated critics and readers.
In her biographical note, “My Boat,” Zhang made a modest statement: “A life still unfinished, ideals demanding to be realized. Beautiful, despondent, joyful, tragic. All manner of social phenomena weave themselves into one story after another in my mind. Like an artless tailor, I cut my cloth unskillfully according to old measurements and turn out garment factory clothes sold in department stores in only five standard sizes and styles.” Although her statement applies to most of her stories, a few, with skillful innovations, cannot be judged by any “old measurements.”