Pa Chin

views updated Jun 08 2018

Pa Chin

Pa Chin (Ba Jin) was the pen name of the Chinese author Li Fei-kan (born 1904). An idealist of humanitarian passion and revolutionary fervor, he was one of China's most prolific and beloved novelists of the 1930s and 1940s.

Born into a large, landowning family in Chengtu, Szechwan, Pa Chin suffered the loss of his parents and many other beloved ones while still a boy. He was active in school and eagerly read the new publications spawned by the May Fourth movement of 1919. His need for love and his vast sympathy determined his course of reading, and an early encounter with a tract by Prince Kropotkin made him a confirmed anarchist. In 1923 he left Chengtu for Shanghai and went on to Nanking to complete his high school education. He returned to Shanghai in 1925 to prepare for a literary career. In January 1927, at the age of 23, he left for France. There he continued to explore his earlier interest in French fiction and the French Revolution and wrote a novel called Mi-wang (Destruction), which was serialized in the leading literary journal Hsiao-shuo Yüehpao (Short Story Magazine). Upon his return to China in 1929, he found himself an acclaimed writer.

From then on Pa Chin wrote prolifically and was also active as a publisher and editor. In most of his early novels and stories, including Ai-ch'ing ti san-pu-ch'ü (The Love Trilogy), the characters are flat and rather bookish, but because they speak out for love and revolution, for a new China and a new humanity, they had a tremendous appeal for young readers of that time.

Autobiographically grounded in his youthful experience, Chieh-liu san-pu-ch'ü (1933-1940; The Torrent: A Trilogy) is much more impressive for its detailed exposé of the squalor and sickness of a large, tradition-bound Chinese family. The first volume, Chia (The Family), has been the most popular of Pa Chin's works because of its great wealth of tear-jerking scenes, but it was the third volume, Ch'iu (Autumn), that first evinced his powers as a novelist in his unsentimental portrayal of the clashes between good and bad characters.

Pa Chin continued to mature in the 1940s in such works as Hsiao-jen hsiao-shih (Little People and Little Events), a volume of short stories, and Ti-ssu ping-shih (Ward Number Four), a novel about patients in a wartime hospital. These prepared for his masterpiece, Han-yeh (Cold Nights), written in 1947. This novel, of rare tenderness and psychological truth, studies a trio (son, wife, and mother) against the background of the worsening conditions in wartime Chungking.

Pa Chin's career as a serious novelist was immediately blighted with the establishment of the People's Republic in 1949. Thereafter he wrote mainly as a foreign correspondent and produced slim volumes of reportage about the Korean and Vietnamese wars. As a foreign correspondent Pa Chin spent time in Korea (1952), Japan (1961), and Vietnam (1962). With changes in the Communist regime in the 1960s he was severely persecuted and denounced as a counterrevolutionary. During the Cultural Revolution (1966-1969) he was purged, but was reported to have reappeared during the 1970s. In 1975 Pa Chin was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature. As a tribute for his many contributions to Chinese literature, he was awarded a Special Fukuoka Asian Commemorative Prize in 1990.

Further Reading

Only one of Pa Chin's novels is available in English, Sidney Shapiro's translation of The Family (1958), sponsored by the Foreign Languages Press of Peking, which also published a volume of the author's sketches of the Korean War, Living amongst Heroes (1954). "Dog," in Edgar Snow, ed., Living China: Modern Chinese Short Stories (1936), is one of the few stories by Pa Chin available in translation. Olga Lang, Ba Jin and His Writings: Chinese Youth between the Two Revolutions (1967), is the most extensive critical biography of the author in any language. It is especially good in relating Pa Chin's literary and intellectual development to Western literature and ideas, particularly Russian and French. C.T. Hsia, A History of Modern Chinese Fiction, 1917-1957 (1961), includes a succinct study of Pa Chin's achievements and limitations as a writer. See also Oldřich Král, "Ba Jin's Novel The Family," in Jaroslav Prušek, ed., Studies in Modern Chinese Literature (1964). Chung-wen Shih, (1982), produced a one-hour video cassette Return From Silence: China's Revolutionary Writers, featuring Pa Chin and other Chinese writers. Movies of The Family and Chilly Night, have been made. □