Tong, Zhong Gui 1963-
Tong, Zhong Gui 1963-
Born January 23, 1963, in Su Zhou, China; son of Jin Cai Tong (a cadre) and Wang Feng Ying (a worker); married Wei Hong, September, 1987; children: Tian Mi. Education: Beijing Normal University, B.D., 1984.
Home—Nanjing, China. Office—10 Hu Nan Rd., Sheng Zojia Xie Hui, Nanjing, China.
Writer, novelist, and editor. Zhong Shan, Jiangsu, China, editor, 1986-92.
Writers' Association of Jiangsu Province.
IN ENGLISH; AS SU TONG
Raise the Red Lantern: Three Novellas (contains "Wives and Concubines," "Nineteen Thirty-four Escapes," and "Opium Family"), translated by Michael S. Duke, Morrow (New York, NY), 1993.
Short Stories. Selections, Ren min wen xue chu ban she (Beijing, China), 2000.
Rice (novel), Perennial (New York, NY), 2004.
My Life as Emperor (novel), translated by Howard Goldblatt, Hyperion West (New York, NY), 2005.
IN CHINESE; AS SU TONG
Shang Xin De Wu Dao, Yuan-Liou, 1991.
Hong Fen, Yuan-Liou, 1991.
Mi, Yuan-Liou, 1991.
Qi Qie cheng gun, Hua chen chu ban she (Guangzhou Shi), 1991.
Nan Fang De Duo Luo, Yuan-Liou, 1992.
Shi jie liang ce, Jiangsu wen yi chu ban she (Nanjing Shi), 1993.
Shao nian xie, Jiangsu wen yi chu ban she (Nanjing Shi), 1993.
Li hun zhi nan, Hua yi chu ban she (Peking, China), 1993.
Su Tong xiao shuo jing pin (short stories), Xinan shi fan da xue chu ban she (Zhongqing shi), 1993.
Hun yin ji jing, Jiangsu wen yi chu ban she (Nanjing Shi), 1993.
Ci qing shi dai, Changjiang wen yi chu ban she (Wuhan Shi), 1993.
Mo dai ai qing, Jiangsu wen yi chu ban she (Nanjing shi), 1994.
Hou gong, Jiangsu wen yi chu ban she (Nanjing shi), 1994.
Li hun zhi nan, Jin ri Zhongguo chu ban she (Beijing, China), 1995.
Pu sa man, Tian di tu shu you xian gong si (Xianggang), 1999.
Pian duan pin jie, Xi yuan chu ban she (Beijing, China), 2000.
Qi qie cheng qun: Su Tong dai biao zuo, Chun feng wen yi chu ban she (Shenyang, China), 2002.
Ling yi zhong fu nu sheng huo, Jiangsu wen yi chu ban she (Nanjing, China), 2003.
Su Tong Wang Hongtu dui hua lu, Suzhou da xue chu ban she (Suzhou Shi), 2003.
"Wives and Concubines" was filmed as Raise the Red Lantern by director Zhang Yimou in 1992.
Chinese writer, editor, and novelist Zhong Gui Tong, who writes under the pseudonym Su Tong, is probably best known in America as the author of the source material for director Zhang Yimou's acclaimed film Raise the Red Lantern, which received an Academy Award nomination in 1992. The novella "Wives and Concubines," which inspired the film, concerns a young woman who is compelled by circumstance to become the fourth concubine of an old and wealthy merchant. Once situated in the merchant's stronghold, the heroine finds herself embroiled in rivalry with the other concubines. In addition, she uncovers evidence that still another concubine has been imprisoned and, ultimately, executed.
"Wives and Concubines" was included in the English-language volume Raise the Red Lantern, which appeared in 1993. Gary Krist, writing in the New York Times Book Review, described "Wives and Concubines" as a "subtle, profoundly feminist tale," and he called it "remarkable." Also featured in the book Raise the Red Lantern are "Nineteen Thirty-four Escapes," which relates a family's history, and "Opium Family," which re-creates life in a rural village during the time immediately preceding a political revolution.
In Tong's novel Rice, "hunger is the unifying trope—hunger for food, sex, the power of life over others (particularly women), and death—all of which may be satisfied by rice," observed Jeffrey C. Kinkley in World Literature Today. Tong "employs rice, symbol of Chinese civilization and heaven's bounty, to daring, iconoclastic effect throughout the novel," commented a Publishers Weekly reviewer. For the novel's protagonist, Five Dragons, rice becomes not only a source and symbol of power but also a fetish object, which he eats uncooked and which figures prominently in the sexually charged murders of prostitutes he commits. When famine strikes his native village, Five Dragons flees the hardship and heads toward the city, where he manages to find a job with Feng, a rich rice merchant. Working only for the ration of rice he gets to eat, Five Dragons labors and schemes a way to insinuate himself deeper into the merchant's life and family. When the merchant's daughter Cloud Weave finds herself shamed and pregnant by a local gangster, Five Dragons agrees to marry her. Yet he is an abusive husband, and he forces himself on her sister, Cloud Silk. When he sets an arson fire that kills several people, Five Dragons becomes an underworld don. Feng's death sets him up as clan patriarch, and he marries Cloud Silk when Cloud Weave runs away. Later, he fathers a son, known as "Rice Boy," who suffocates his little sister in rice. When the Japanese occupy the area during the war, Five Dragons betrays his former criminal associates. Assuming control of Feng's family rice business, he works to return to his village astride a boxcar of rice, a prodigal hero who has solved the rice shortage forever, if only in his own depraved mind. Tong "depicts a relentlessly ugly world devoid of hope or redemption, where the strong prey on the weak and corruption flourishes unchecked," remarked Scott Veale in the New York Times Book Review. Booklist reviewer Joanne Wilkinson called Tong's novel a "disturbing tale about the brutality of life" in China of the 1930s, noting that throughout the book, Tong "lovingly fashions many great scenes of intense depravity."
My Life as Emperor recounts the rapid degeneration of the prince of the fictional Chinese Xie empire when he suddenly ascends to the position of emperor. Formerly a shy and wistful lad, fourteen-year-old prince Duanbai becomes a cruel, terrorizing ruler. Besotted with his new power, Duanbai demands instant gratification of his every whim. He uses violence to settle old, petty scores and insults. When he is disturbed by the sound of a group of discarded concubines weeping in the garden, he orders that their tongues be cut out to silence them. Despite his brutality, Duanbai is unprepared for the dangers and deadly intrigues that await him, and he lives in constant fear of attack or assassination. He must particularly guard against the rivalry of other, older brothers, particularly the cunning Duanwen, since they feel they have a greater claim to the throne than Duanbai. For others in his household, including his mother and siblings, connection to the emperor is no reason for fear, but is instead a means to vie for wealth and political power. Despite his less savory characteristics, Duanbai knows friendship, in the form of his closest companion Swallow, a gigantic eunuch, and love, from concubine Lady Hui. In an atmosphere of such raw greed, however, peopled by individuals who seek advancement for themselves at the expense of others, tragedy is inevitable, and Duanbai's immaturity and ineptitude fuels his downfall. Tong's novel "details the coming of age of a boy who succumbs to the seductive influence of ruthless power," commented Sofia A. Tangalos in the Library Journal. His "lush prose style … provides the perfect counter as well as startling detail and texture, to the perilous court life it recounts," noted a contributor to Publishers Weekly. The story, commented a Kirkus Reviews critic, "has the energy of white-hot melodrama, and it's a propulsive read."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, August, 1995, Joanne Wilkinson, review of Rice, p. 1930.
Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 2004, review of My Life as Emperor, p. 1163.
Library Journal, February 1, 2005, Sofia A. Tangalos, review of My Life as Emperor, p. 71.
New Yorker, May 9, 2005, John Updike, "Bitter Bamboo," review of My Life as Emperor.
New York Times Book Review, July 25, 1993, Gary Krist, review of Raise the Red Lantern, p. 12; October 22, 1995, Scott Veale, "Books in Brief: Fiction," review of Rice.
Publishers Weekly, June 12, 1995, review of Rice, p. 44; January 31, 2005, review of My Life as Emperor, p. 50.
Sunday Times (London, England), February 20, 2005, Sophie Harrison, review of My Life as Emperor.
World Literature Today, spring, 1996, Jeffrey C. Kinkley, review of Rice, p. 469.
Curled up with a Good Book,http://www.curledup.com/ (January 10, 2007), Iris Jacobs, review of Rice.