Heng, Liu 1954–
Heng, Liu 1954–
PERSONAL: Born 1954, in Beijing, China.
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Grove/Atlantic Inc., 841 Broadway, 4th Fl., New York, NY 10003-4793.
CAREER: Novelist and screenwriter. Former laborer for Beijing Motor Factory; Beijing Literature, editor, beginning 1979. Military service: Served in Chinese Navy.
AWARDS, HONORS: Recipient of writing awards, including China's national Prize for Novelettes, 1987.
The Obsessed (includes "The Obsessed," "Whirlpool," and "Unreliable Witness"), translated by David Kwan, Chinese Literature Press, 1991.
Black Snow (novel), translated by Howard Goldblatt, Atlantic Monthly (New York, NY), 1993.
Green River Daydreams: A Novel, translated by Howard Goldblatt, Grove (New York, NY), 2001.
Ju Dou, Miramax, 1990.
Also writer or cowriter of the screenplays for Red Sorghum, directed by Zhang Yimou, 1987; Black Snow, 1990; The Story of Qiu Ju, based on short story by Chen Yuanbin, directed by Zhang Yimou, 1991; Sishi Buhuo, 1992; Red Rose, White Rose, 1994; The Great Conqueror's Concubine, 1994; Piaoliang Mama, 2000; and Meishi Touzhe Le, 2000.
Quan sheng, [Beijing, China], 2000.
Liu Heng, [Beijing, China], 2000.
Also author of the book Meishi Touzhe Le, 2000.
SIDELIGHTS: Liu Heng's career rose along with that of Chinese director Zhang Yimou when Heng joined the highly regarded director to write screenplays for the films Red Sorghum, Ju Dou, and The Story of Qiu Ju. Red Sorghum and Ju Dou both deal with unwilling brides. Red Sorghum, set in the 1920s and 1930s in a time of cultural change and impending war against Japan, a girl becomes the head of a sorghum-wine distillery after a series of bloody and suspenseful adventures.
Ju Dou, the first Chinese film ever nominated for an Academy Award, was controversial in China and denounced by the government, which found the story offensive. The film, also set in the 1920s, is about an old man, the owner of a dye factory, who purchases a wife and treats her, as he himself admits, "like an animal." As time passes, the wife, Ju Dou, becomes more rebellious and stubborn, and eventually has an affair with her husband's nephew, with whom she has a son, who turns out to be mute and insane.
For his screenplay The Story of Qiu Ju, Heng teamed up again with internationally recognized film director Zhang Yimou. The main character, a woman whose husband is kicked "where it hurts" by the village chief, dedicates her life to revenging this humiliation. Her first step is to approach the local public-security bureau agent, who fines the chief two hundred yuan. When Qui Ju comes to receive the payment, the chief tosses twenty ten-yuan bills on the ground, saying: "You'll bow your head to me twenty times, and then we'll be even." "I'll decide when we're even," responds the proud Qiu Ju, leaving without the money. But the price of such pride for a poor country woman is high. Qiu Ju's pursuit of justice takes her from one level of a seemingly limitless bureaucracy to another. Using gifts of fruit to try to influence officials, she merely underlines her own inexperience and lack of clout. Time reviewer Richard Corliss appreciated the film's vision because it offers "a rare glimpse into the last communist monolith, it has the fascination of an individual's—and a People's—tragedy."
Black Snow, Heng's second novel, follows the struggles of twenty-five-year-old Li Huiquan, who has just been released after three years in a Chinese forced-labor camp. Abandoned as an infant, Huiquan grew up an angry loner, and things have not improved during his time in prison. He returns to a seamy, gritty side of Beijing and tries to set his life in order. But his bad luck has followed him: one of his friends has died in a motorcycle crash, another is in prison for life, and his childhood crush has married another man.
Huiquan tries to be respectable: he sells clothes from a stall on the street and falls in love with a singer at a fashionable club, but he cannot sustain the relationship, and falls back into bitterness and despair. He tries to kill himself, but instead is killed by two teenaged robbers. Booklist contributor Mary Ellen Sullivan wrote that the book is "bleak in tone and outlook … but engrossing." Publishers Weekly reviewer Sybil Steinberg found the book "disturbing and richly alive."
Like director Zhang Yimou, Heng is often caught between his creative principles and the expectations of the Chinese communist government, which frequently denounces his work for focusing on unpleasant issues in modern Chinese life. Heng is part of a development in Chinese literature in which writers contradict the official portrayal of Chinese society and explore aspects of Chinese life that were previously censored or forbidden.
In his novel Green River Daydreams, Heng tells the story of Ears the Slave in early twentieth-century China. The centenarian narrates his own tale to an auditor, revealing his life as a personal servant to the master of the Cao family. A faithful servant, Ears tries to save the self-absorbed family from disaster when the young Guanghan joins a rebellion against the Qing dynasty. When Guanghan discards the wife of his arranged marriage, she starts an affair with one of her husband's co-workers and sends the family into turmoil. Writing in the Library Journal, Tom Cooper called the novel "a masterly blending of character and story in a compelling historical setting." A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote, "The frank, unprettified voice of Heng's narrator immediately imparts vigor and urgency to this dramatic story of tragic love."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, March 1, 1993, Mary Ellen Sullivan, review of Black Snow, p. 1156; June 1, 2001, Bonnie Johnston, review of Green River Dreams, p. 1842.
Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 2001, review of Green River Dreams, p. 979.
Library Journal, June 15, 2001, Tom Cooper, review of Green River Daydreams, p. 104.
Publishers Weekly, February 1, 1993, Sybil Steinberg, review of Black Snow, p. 70; June 11, 2001, review of Green River Dreams, p. 55.
Time, April 26, 1993, Richard Corliss, review of The Story of Qiu Ju, pp. 68-69.
College of Wooster Web site, http://www.wooster.edu/ (November 5, 2005), brief profile of author.