Fang Fang

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Pseudonym for Wang Fang. Nationality: Chinese. Born: Wang Fang in Nanjing, China, 1955. Education: Wuhan University, beginning 1978, graduated. Career: Loader, Wuhan factory, 1975-78; assigned to Hubei Television Station; since 1989 held jobs with Hubei Writers' Association (currently vice-chairwoman); editor of Celebrities Today Press; writer.



Works of Fang Fang. n.d.

Uncollected Short Stories

"Covered Truck."

"One Glittering Moment."

"Hints" (in Chinese Literature). Summer 1997.

"Stakeout" (in Chinese Literature). Summer 1997.


Towards Distant Places. n.d.

Landscape. 1987.

Dead End. n.d.

Floating Clouds & Flowing Water. n.d.

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Since their introduction into the canon by leftist writers and critics after the May Fourth Movement of 1919, Marxist literary principles, especially socialist realism in its various guises and manifestations, have powerfully influenced modern Chinese literature. This was especially the case after the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949. It is a literary doctrine that requires that artists, like everyone else, engage in building the ideal society by producing works glorifying society, its aims, and its people and by subordinating their own needs to the greater good. Hence, the heroes and heroines of this art, preferably drawn from the working masses, must be depicted in their valiant, ongoing struggle against repressive feudal and capitalist orders. The production of such art in China has at times been carefully monitored and shaped by the state through official organizations and cadres, with complying artists rewarded and renegade artists ignored or worse.

While the application of the tenets of socialist realism has been relaxed in China since the Cultural Revolution of 1966-76, they persist to this day as a kind of éminence grise, with their effects still apparent in much of the fiction that is being written. It was in such an intellectual and artistic ethos that Fang Fang, former factory worker, began writing short stories as a university student in the late 1970s and in which she has continued as one of China's leading women writers.

Fang Fang's early works concentrated mostly on urban factory workers who possessed a strong sense of social consciousness and were coping with the aftermath of the cataclysmic Cultural Revolution. The author of more than a dozen volumes of short stories and novellas, she has since broadened her literary palette to include intellectuals and middle-class protagonists as well. The struggles and concerns of the latter often deal with the banally quotidian rather than the grandly political. She has also introduced such themes as environmentalism and feminism, both of a gentle sort, into her works.

The early work "Stakeout" ("Mai fu") demonstrates a number of characteristics of Fang Fang's writing, some of which conform to the requirements of the state and others of which do not. A story of male bonding and of the effects of a numbing 36-day police stakeout on two men—one an older, seasoned policeman in poor health and the other his younger, callow assistant—this combination love story and police mystery operates on two planes. On the private level it traces the tenuous, sometimes jealous, sometimes passionate relationship between two factory workers. Ye is an egotistical former soldier who is neither particularly good-looking nor especially dedicated to anything except a good time, and his girlfriend, Bai Lin, though plain looking, is a proud, levelheaded woman who refuses to allow Ye to take her for granted. Although they are sleeping together, avoiding pregnancy by using condoms, they are not sure that they are in love or that they should marry. On the public, official level the story details the manner in which a true hero in the mode of socialist realism—a dedicated, unnamed section chief in the complex, inefficient police bureaucracy who is suffering from liver cancer—helps break up a large criminal ring while at the same time teaching Ye much needed lessons in fortitude, dedication, and self-respect.

As in any good piece of socialist realism, class distinctions are clearly drawn early on in the story. As if to show the residue of the Cultural Revolution, when all scholars and academics were politically suspect and when many were sent off to the countryside for political reeducation or were simply killed, two of Fang Fang's characters, a scholarly mathematics teacher and an academic-looking man with a mole on his chin, turn out to be criminals. One is a murderer, and the other is the owner of the house staked out by Ye and the section chief, which turns out to be the headquarters of the criminal ringleader. Similarly, the section chief possesses all of the traits of the selfless, if doomed, hero of socialist realism. An old-fashioned revolutionary, he serves as Ye's mentor, demonstrating tenacity in the face of failure and dedication to his job. He does so despite myriad problems, including an inefficient, ineffective staff, an incurable illness, and pressing family obligations.

Not all officials are depicted positively, however. Some at both the higher and lower echelons of the bureaucratic hierarchy are petty, mean-spirited men and women looking out for private gain and advancement for themselves or their relatives. The insidious nature of such nepotism and cronyism, which often ensure the rise of the inept and the restraint of the talented, is satirized in the story. Ironically, the solution of the multiple murder case that prompts the stakeout is as much the result of bureaucratic bungling as it is the outcome of the protagonists' dedication.

Fang Fang's allusions to the Buddhist notion of reincarnation resonate deeply in the work. In one exchange the section chief, attempting to show his appreciation of Ye's good work, states that, if one does indeed come back after death, he would like to return and have Ye as a member of his team. Ye jests that, if there is an afterlife, both will return and that he, Ye, will be the section chief and his superior the subordinate. Here the joke is meant to mask the deep feelings of connectedness and purpose that Ye has come to feel toward but cannot honestly express to the older man.

While the story has many of the trappings of modernity, such as cellular phones, Singaporean passports, American money, condoms, and pornographic movies, it is at the core a traditional love story well within the artistic parameters of socialist realism. Bai Lin suspects that Ye is having an affair with another woman because of his extended absences, which he refuses to explain. (He is under the strictest orders not to reveal anything to anyone.) She threatens to take up with a former boyfriend who, having jilted her, has come to realize her quality as a human being and wants her back. Uncertain as to what to do, Bai Lin puts him off while she tries to sort out her true feelings toward Ye. After she learns of Ye's dedication to his work on the stakeout and to the relationship he develops there, her jealousy and confusion subside. She rejects her former suitor and realizes her love for Ye. In the final line of the story, he insists that they marry that very day.

Fang Fang's short stories reflect the profound transformation through which China has passed. With the acceptance of new ideas and movement toward a real, if leisurely paced, liberalization of control from authorities, the country has become a more open society. Her stories faithfully represent these changes, showing the country's aspirations, successes, false starts, and even failures. Some readers may find her stories formulaic, even predictable. But a careful, nuanced reading of them reveals Fang Fang to be a cautious, resourceful artist working within the limits of Chinese society yet tactfully meeting the challenges of such circumstances with grace, sensitivity, and skill.

—Carlo Coppola

See the essay on "Hints."