Shadows and Voices:
Shuang Xuetao’s Fiction of Northeast China

By Qi Wang


MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright September 2020)


Shuang Xuetao

A recent significant phenomenon in contemporary Chinese literature is the “New Northeast Writers Group” (新东北作家群). The term is used by critics to identify young writers, such as Ban Yu (班宇), Shuang Xuetao (双雪涛), Zheng Zhi (郑执), and a few others, whose stories and styles converge in their depiction of northeast China, a region that in the Mao era experienced industrial privilege but that has seen economic decline, unemployment, and social despondency in the reform era.[1] Mostly born in Shenyang in the late 1970s or the 1980s, these young writers are the sons of the workers who were laid off from their factories in the 1990s and faced a bleak future, a process that is amply chronicled in the documentary film Tie Xi Qu: West of the Tracks (铁西区, dir. Wang Bing 王兵, 2003). Often speaking in first person, the authors, as the natural and “legitimate” inheritors of that difficult experience, tend to present their stories in a matter-of-fact prose consisting of many short sentences and charged with vernacular speech from daily life in the region.[2]

In this essay, I take up the short stories collected in two volumes by Shuang Xuetao (b. 1983), Moses on the Plains (平原上的摩西) and The Aviator (飞行家), [3] and offer a close look at the writer’s literary depiction of northeast China as especially reflected in two structural tendencies. The first is the use of personal as well as multiple narration, which allows not only a central “I” to report observations of the figures around him but also lets each of the multiple characters speak for themselves, resulting in a resounding multivalent dialogic texture. The second is the peculiar resolution of stories and crises through some sort of fantastic escape. Whether the effect of that escape is one of transcendence or of descent remains open to interpretation at the current stage of this still new literary phenomenon. Together, such features address a collective desire to understand and be understood while also, as the critic Huang Ping observes with much insight, being confronted with the question of where to go next after the publication of these voluminous and hearty personal and regional tales.[4]  This question about direction and mission applies to the creative potential and historical gravity of these young writers, as well as to the fate and future of the northeastern working class in the globalizing world.

Multiple Narrative and Personal Memory

At least seven out of the ten stories in Moses on the Plains each read like a narrator’s personal memoir of a single individual from his past: a father, an uncle, or a school friend.[5] Whether by personality or by fate, these figures are at odds with their times, unable to succeed at work or in school, and generally arrive at a sorry end as “scrapped beings”: dead, insane, aged, and secluded from the world outside, completely trashed and discarded by their times.[6] No matter how abused by hardship, liquor, or neglect, they each are credited with at least one heroic act, such as protecting the reputation of a friend, securing shelter for a homeless family, or letting an opponent win a chess game as a saving grace for a life full of disappointment. Such flashes of human dignity also define an elevating moment in the life of Sun Xuting, a working-class uncle figure in a story by Ban Yu. At the end of “Panjin Leopard,” Sun takes a final, transformative leap and delivers himself above a lifelong chain of injustices:

Sun Xudong saw his father hold a rusted kitchen knife in hand, burst out a cry, come in and take a look, you motherfuckers, and with extreme agility he leapt into the air, becoming born again from the winds that cracked…[7]

Whereas Ban’s literary solution to suffering—related in matter-of-fact prose packed with banal acts from daily life—is the sudden lightening of a poetic image to “crack” open a despairing experience so as to let cathartic tears flow, Shuang chooses to dissolve any saving grace there might be for a character’s humble existence by immersing it almost immediately in time, where only death, old age, or incarceration in an asylum awaits. His literary portrayals are a few shades duller and darker in tone than Ban Yu’s. Whereas Ban produces stunning poetic images of characters that feel readily translatable into paintings, the strength of Shuang’s writing seems to lie less in visual terms than in the conjuring of a dim space, a mnemonic underground where hushed voices and haunting shadows meld with each other.

Besides the individual accounts,  three of the more elaborate stories that consist of more than one storyline and perspective are “Moses on the Plains” (平原上的摩西), “The Hall of Light” (光明堂), and “The Aviator” (飞行家).[8] In these stories, memories and experiences parallel or intertwine with each other, and characters emerge and submerge before coming to a point where solutions to dilemmas or mysteries seem possible only by fantastic means. “Moses on the Plains,” currently under production as a feature film, is doubtless the most sophisticated example in the two volumes of this use of multiple narration. Spanning more than a decade, from 1995 and 2007, the story has seven narrators, each of whose accounts occupies a section or two. What they choose to tell sometimes stands alone and sometimes complements what someone else says; there is no clash in content or in form, only a collective effort, albeit unknown to the narrators themselves, at conjuring the shape of something larger. The plotline stringing these narrations together is the mystery of the unresolved murders of five taxi drivers in 1995 and again, a dozen years later in 2007, of two chengguan (城管).[9] The cast of narrators includes the following: the Zhuang household whose members—husband, wife, and son—each speak in turn; two policemen recounting the investigations (one being Jiang Bufan who dies at work, apparently also murdered); Li Fei, a young woman who used to be a neighbor of the Zhuangs; Sun Tianbo, Li Fei’s friend who is a clinician inheriting from his father both the clinic and a friendship commitment to the Lis. The only character who does not speak in first person as such is Li Shoulian, father of Li Fei, who is also the primary suspect in all the cases, including the death of Jiang. The murders of 1995 remain unresolved and are brought up again in 2007 in the light of the two chengguan cases; one of the chengguan is shot to death with a gun that once belonged to Jiang but that disappeared after his death.

While the policemen speak of the investigations, the other voices tell about social relations, feelings, and changes over the years. The Lis and Zhuangs are neighbors and their young children become friends, but soon the two families move away to different places due to urban development. The two children, Zhuang Shu and Li Fei, don’t meet again until the end of the story. The two fathers in “Moses on the Plains” have contrasting trajectories in life despite their similar backgrounds in state-owned factories. Zhuang Dezeng, father of Zhuang Shu, leaves the municipal tobacco factory early enough to reinvent himself as a successful businessman. In contrast, Li Shoulian, a skilled fitter in a tractor factory, resembles the worker-father figure frequently found in the fictional world of Ban Yu and who is a failure and castaway in the new world of the reform era. Widowed and laid off, Li disappears along with his daughter after the death of the policeman Jiang, reemerging years later as a taxi driver. We do “hear” his voice but only secondhand in the reports of the others. Is this largely silent figure the real culprit or not? At the end of the story, the two children meet for the first time as adults. Zhuang Shu, now a new recruit in the police force, explains his interpretation of the decade-long mystery and holds Li Shoulian responsible for all the murders, a crucial piece of evidence supporting his account being the butt of an old cigarette brand called Plains (平原) Li used to smoke. An extra mnemonic dimension to the cigarette is that the logo on the Plains’ package was drawn by Zhuang Shu’s own artistic mother and features a little girl modeled on none other than Li Fei, who used to be under the caring tutelage of Mrs. Zhuang. Li Fei exonerates her father from the taxi driver murders but says nothing about the other cases. Instead, she mentions that her father’s presence on the fateful night of the policeman’s death is due to his accompanying her on a trip to fulfill her promise to Zhuang Shu: the two kids agreed to meet that night—Christmas eve—and put on a fire show as a celebration. Born with an unexplained attraction to fire, the little Li Fei planned to burn a huge fire—“the size of a Christmas tree”—out of the sorghum stalks left in a harvested field.[10] Father and daughter took a taxi that happened to be driven by Jiang, who was undercover on investigation. Jiang asked Li for a cigarette and saved the butt for future investigations he was never able to carry out. Besides offering a piece of incriminating evidence, the cigarette brand Plains is also an inadvertent and oblique proof of friendship and childhood because the design on the package is a reminder of the past when the Zhuangs and the Lis were good neighbors. Following the discovery of the cigarette butt, Li Fei’s name comes up during the investigation but only Zhuang Shu is able to make connections between the object and his old friend. He keeps the knowledge to himself and meets with Li Fei alone at the end of the story. Their meeting takes place in the middle of a lake, each having rowed a rented boat to arrive there. Li Fei has a gun—the one belonging to Jiang—and we do not know for sure if she will use it on Zhuang Shu so as to protect her father from being exposed. The very last image presented in the story is a metaphorical one:

I reached in my jacket, felt around my gun, and took out the cigarettes. That was our Plains. An earlier her, eleven or twelve, smiling, sockless, looking up at midair. The cigarette pack afloat on the water, its plastic cover glimmering under the sun, a breeze in this northern afternoon was blowing on her, sending her walking toward the bank.

我把手伸进怀里,绕过我的手枪,掏出我的烟。那时我们的平原。上面的她,十一二岁,笑着,没穿袜子,看着半空。烟盒在水上漂着,上面那层塑料在阳光底下泛着光芒,北方午后的微风吹着她,向着岸边走去。[11]

If Li Fei has shot Zhuang Shu at the end, then Zhuang’s account as cited above is the flashback of a dead man. His sight of Li Fei “walking” on water could be a reverie because Li Fei has been paralyzed for twelve years: a truck ran into their taxi on that night of the policeman’s death. The story’s titular reference to Moses and his biblical parting of the waters for deliverance from danger and despair comes from Mrs. Zhuang who is a Christian and has taught Li Fei about the Exodus when they were still neighbors.[12] Li Fei, the paralyzed young woman who has to live a secretive existence because of her and her father’s connection with the policeman’s murder, becomes the unlikely Moses on this emotional landscape of regret and pain.[13] The author’s play between word and image works toward a deliverance essentially metaphorical in nature; its fragile and flimsy quality—the tiny sketch of a little girl, the breeze on a lake, the sight of a paralyzed young woman walking on water—exudes much sadness, and memory and wishful thinking converge and are trusted only to language.

The effect of Shuang’s multiple narrations is quite different—largely because of its longing for unity—from what we read in Ryunosuke Akutagawa (芥川 龍之介), the Japanese master of the short story who famously makes multiple narrators and accounts contradict with and bounce off each other, creating a prismatic effect that serves as a trenchant commentary on the subtle complexity of the human soul and the flimsy unreliability of a narrow logical connection we tend to draw between observed action and hidden intention. In “In a Bamboo Grove” (Yabu no Naka, 藪の中, 1922), for example, Akutagawa’s narrative arrangement has each of the central trio—samurai, wife, and bandit—plus four others, confess and take responsibility for the death of the samurai, the overlapping accounts growing into a dizzying interstice from which the truth escapes.[14] The stories of Akutagawa are pleasurable in a purely formal manner, partly because they tend to be set in a premodern past. In contrast, many of Shuang Xuetao’s stories have a heavy autobiographical undertone, and the experiential and emotional intimacy makes a huge difference in the effect of a literary technique such as multiple narration. In the case of “Moses on the Plains,” the goal of the multiplicity seems to be unity and coherence, however imperfect and unsatisfying it proves to be. It is driven by a need for emotional integrity, a desire to come to terms with a mystified past. Time works like a quiet yet deeply impactful implosion and the survivors of it are fragmented and haunted, whether they were the essential players in that implosion or not. There is a sense of universal victimhood, including for the characters who may be guilty of crimes. For example, Zhuang Dezeng, the father and husband figure who is shown as financially successful and emotionally caring, is exposed—by his wife, no less—as a former Red Guard who killed a beloved uncle of hers during the Cultural Revolution. The uncle was an American-educated professor of literature whom she misses for his impassioned recitation of poems by Walt Whitman.[15] This side story is suddenly dropped, and we learn no more of its consequences or whether Zhuang and his wife ever talked about it or will ever talk about it. In the meantime, Zhuang’s own accounts are featured twice in the story, the first time to introduce his family and that of Li Shoulian, the second time to witness the removal of a statue of Mao Zedong from the city square and the protest of aged workers who try to stop it from happening. On the latter occasion, he recalls his past as a youngster admiring the statue, standing exactly where the protesters are now, and he waxes gently nostalgic about the passing of time:

On many evenings, I, being young and idle, stood here to look at the sun falling behind the hills. I have almost completely forgotten about those years, as if they had never existed, as if it were within a split second that I became who I am now.

有好多个傍晚,我年纪轻轻,无所事事,就站在这儿看夕阳落山。那些时光在过去的几年里,完全被我遗忘,好像从来没有发生过,好像一瞬间,我就成了现在的样子。[16]

Forgetful, nostalgic, empathetic, and successful, Zhuang is almost the gentlest and most reasonable figure among the story’s contemplative cast; despite his apparent freedom from any association with the investigations, he seems to also be guilty, having committed the first murder in the story: that of the university professor. Because of its amalgamation of various realities and memories, the narrative space of Shuang’s fiction feels rich and suggestive. Besides the central plot line of the criminal investigation, the individual accounts and experiences remain distinct and independent of each other, the effect of which is that every narrator is a side character and every account is an incomplete testimony. There is a collective desire to connect with each other as well as with an earlier and insufficiently processed past, such as the Cultural Revolution. That apparently distant and partially forgotten era proves to be still relevant and impactful on the generation born in the reform era, in however tortuous ways. Shadows of the past, and the shadows of those shadows, impregnate Shuang’s fictional northeast and haunt his characters as a structure of feeling.

Prosaic Realism and Fantastic Delivery

Almost the entire volume of Moses on the Plains (with ten stories in total) and at least three pieces in The Aviator—these being “The Seesaw” (跷跷板), “The Hall of Light” (光明堂), and “The Aviator” (飞行家)—have characters, sometimes multiple narrators within a single story, speak of themselves and others in a flat, matter-of-fact way.[17] The narration is largely composed in a straightforward format of “I used to know this person and he used to do this.” A multitude of experiences is thus brought together and gives shape to an emotional landscape that temporarily finds its location in contemporary Shenyang, the provincial capital of Liaoning, but that sounds mappable onto other locations in China and beyond, whenever a society and a population are caught in an era of paradigmatic change. Twelve out of the nineteen stories in the two volumes avoid using quotation marks in presenting dialogue, a characteristic of Ban Yu’s fiction as well.[18] A persistent sense of hushed testimony contrasts with the sheer volume of the many characters and their stories. Page upon page, telling upon telling, together these accounts give rise to a deeply emotional space resonant with a collective desire to remember and be remembered, to understand and be understood. Life tends to be filtered through the experiences of two sets of central characters: one is the working-class fathers and uncles, the other is “my” school friends and girlfriends. Shuang’s fictional northeast China has a curious absence of mother figures who, when they do flash by here and there, tend to be presented as mysterious, faraway, and out of touch. The Christian Mrs. Li in Moses on the Plains” has perhaps the most elaborate treatment among all the mother figures, though she is not a conventional loving mother either. A sense of aloofness exists between her and her son, Zhuang Shu, but the reason is never provided. Similarly, mothers seldom make an appearance in Ban Yu’s fictional world. Apart from the mother who largely stays in the background living with “I”—a bachelor in his thirties—in the story “Winter Swim,” mother figures occupy merely four pages of Winter Swim, and they appear sickly and ill-tempered.[19] This topic, however, needs to be saved for a fuller contemplation later and elsewhere.

The literary technique of achieving emotional resonance through muted voices is not unique to Shuang and Ban. A contemporary example of a much grander size is the 509-page, 350,000-character long novel, Blossoms (繁花), authored by the Shanghai writer Jin Yucheng (金宇澄, b. 1952). Currently under production as a TV drama series directed by Wong Kar-wai (王家衛), the famous director from Hong Kong who has a Shanghainese heritage and whose films are admired for their dialogic texture woven from multiple perspectives, Blossoms spells an ambitious chronicle of memories, stories, and dialogues in the life of three Shanghainese men. Between the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and the reform era of the 1990s, three friends—A-bao, Husheng, and Xiaomao—develop, cease, and resume liaisons with each other, along with a cast of at least sixteen other characters.[20] The dialogues usually happen around dinner tables or on long walks that the friends take around Shanghai. When a character speaks, it is factually presented as “xxx speaks,” followed by what is said, but without quotation marks. Within the dense and long paragraphs of Blossoms, we have a constant flow of “xxx speaks… xxx speaks… xxx speaks….” Equally prominent are the silences—over 1,500 instances—that Jin indefatigably wedges into the speeches, indicating that “xxx does not speak” (xxx不响).[21] Characters say things, sometime many things, but they have moments when they choose not to speak and let a topic dwell silently in its complexity, secretiveness, sadness. At work is a curious interplay between presentation and concealment, evidence and secrecy, surface and depth. All actions, including the negative ones such as “xxx does not speak,” are made known in an objective, third-person narration. Accompanied by the many elaborate sketches and maps drawn by the author himself, we approach the Shanghai streets and the life stories of the characters therein as if on a guided tour inside the literary equivalent of a traditional scroll painting of city life such as Along the River During the Qingming Festival (清明上河图, Zhang Zeduan 张择端, early 12th century), except that the contents are modern and about destruction, the voices are hushed and dwell upon loss, and some figures survive and stay busy, while others disappear and haunt the survivors. The removal of quotation marks from the entire text of Blossoms induces a sense of flatness and reticence, and such formal restraint contrasts with the almost endless story-within-a-story formations in the flow of the prosaic chatter and speech. Every character has something to tell and share, sometimes about themselves, sometimes about others, and those stories have the potential to lead to still more tales of still more others. The aesthetic image of the long novel is like that of a huge river, its surface quiet when enjoyed from afar on a spring outing, but when viewed more closely abounds with whirlpools of all sizes that suggest the stirring and churning of memory and sadness.

Although writing in a largely realistic manner and using common speech, Shuang Xuetao emphasizes what he sees as the essentially “poetic, narrational, metaphorical, and alienating” nature of language, especially Chinese, so that even the most realist novel is essentially fictive for him because “even factual memories, when appearing in fiction, immediately crumble, shatter, float off, and are rendered into background to become something else.”[22] Such a process—an image also—of the literary transformation of reality through a metaphorical implosion is quite peculiar and can help us partly understand the verbal force at work in Shuang’s writing. Comparable to Ban Yu’s composition, Shuang builds his storytelling in a matter-of-fact flow of detailed actions in which the characters are constantly doing something and going through changes, the temporal planes ranging from day to day or from era to era. In this constant movement and busyness, things or surroundings shift abruptly to reveal a surrealist dimension into which certain figures disappear or flee: Li Fei walking on water at the end of “Moses on the Plains”; Andrei making a ghostlike appearance at “my” father’s funeral in “My Friend Andrei” (我的朋友安德烈); “I” walking an endless journey alone in a boundless, apocalyptic coalfield with the body of a dead girl on his back in “Out of the City” (走出格勒); and “my” half-paralyzed grandfather jumping out of the hospital window together with the old guard from his years in the army in “Free Fall” (自由落体). In “The Seesaw,” “I” might have just encountered a ghost from the past when going digging on the frozen ground of an inactive factory to recover the physical remains of that very ghost; and in “The Aviator,” the self-taught inventor who is the narrator’s uncle by marriage and who has been absent until then, takes off from behind a statue of Mao Zedong and flies into the night sky in a flying balloon of his own design.

“The Hall of Light” has by far the fullest depiction of a fantastic turn, devoting one third of its length to a nightmarish conclusion in which the characters find themselves under water in a frozen lake. The story juxtaposes two thirteen-year-old boys, Zhang Mo and Liu Ding, whose mothers are absent, their whereabouts unknown. Zhang Mo is sent by his drunken father, who also disappears one day, to go stay with his aunt who currently serves and lives in a chapel and is possibly in love with an ex-convict-turned-priest who gives regular sermons there. Liu Ding is an exceptionally big-sized boy who is good at fighting. He is abandoned by his parents, lives with his grandmother, is sick of school, and, after making friends with the school’s new janitor, plans to commit a murder on the latter’s behalf to earn money to travel to Beijing where he might find his mother. The target of this hitman job—practically a revenge mission—is none other than the priest. The two sections, one presented in first person, the other in third person, converge into a fantastic third section in which the first-person perspective resumes and by which point it seems rather apparent that the two boys might be alter egos of each other. With Zhang Mo in pursuit of Liu Ding—who has just killed the priest—and in the company of a girl named Gu-niao’er, the trio walks into a dark snowy night and falls into a lake named Shadow. Underwater, Zhang Mo, as the narrating “I,” has a convoluted reverie peopled with a string of characters on trial and a strange big fish that struggles to escape into a hole at the bottom of the lake. The fish eventually pulls one of them—obviously Liu Ding—with it into the hole.[23]

Critics note a typical reference or image of a “‘lake,’ ‘river,’ ‘ocean’ or ‘sky’” at the end of Shuang’s stories and interpret such a destination in “water” as perhaps indicative of a “fear of falling in the face of historical disorientation.”[24] Is it really fear of falling, or is it probably a necessary pause and a strategic preparation to muster courage and strength before an apparent dead end that is unusually fluid and evasive? Aside from the pieces discussed so far, Shuang has produced several other stories that seem to indicate an experimental turn to a very different kind of space—a meta-literary one instead of a concretely conditioned northeast China. In these stories—examples including “Spacing” (间距) and “Assassinate the Novelist” (刺杀小说家)—a writer stands at the center while the narrative ricochets between two worlds, one of which is the purely imaginary realm of a literary text. Not always successful or effective—“Assassinate the Novelist” feels rather contrived and its dual structure seems far too similar to that in Haruki Murakami’s Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World—this very different move nevertheless suggests Shuang’s attempt to leave his familiar territory for alternative solutions.[25]  As demonstrated in almost all the stories with a direct evocation of the northeast region and in “Bottlenose” (宽吻), a piece that features a writer encountering a dolphin inside an aquarium and learning about the animal’s slow death in this artificial environment, Shuang’s literary imagination captures a state of limbo that seems to characterize the contemporary Chinese social psyche. Like the dolphin, his characters experience a violent thrust out of the past and, if they get to survive the transition, find themselves stranded in an alienating present where the path to deliverance is elusive.[26]

Qi Wang
School of Literature, Media, and Communication, Georgia Institute of Technology

Notes:

[1] A highly informative discussion of the emergence of this group of young writers is provided by Huang Ping 黄平, “An Overview of ‘New Northeast Writers Group’” (“新东北作家群”论纲), originally published in Jilin University Journal Social Sciences Edition (吉林大学社会科学学报) 60, no. 1 (2020): 174-182, 223, accessible at  http://www.chinawriter.com.cn/n1/2020/0312/c404034-31628698.html (accessed 2020-08-20). Between Nov. 10-14 2019, the Wechat public account “Research and Criticism of Post-80 Generation’s Literature” (80后文学研究与批评) published a series of five essays in a special issue called “New Northeast Writers Group.” One among these is by David Der-wei Wang (王德威), “The Revelation of Yanfen Street—Shuang Xuetao’s Moses on the Plains” (艳粉街启示录——双雪涛《平原上的摩西》), see endnote 6.

[2] Huang Ping, “An Overview of ‘New Northeast Writers Group’.” For an elaborate discussion of Ban Yu’s short stories, see Qi Wang, “Frozen Waters and Deathly Wells: Ban Yu’s Fiction of Northeast China.” MCLC Resource Center (Sept. 2019).

[3] Shuang Xuetao 双雪涛, Moses on the Plains (平原上的摩西) (Tianjin: Baihua wenyi, 2020); The Aviator (飞行家) (Guilin: Guangxi shifan daxue, 2017).

[4] Huang Ping, “An Overview of ‘New Northeast Writers Group’.”

[5] These are “The Master” (大师), “My Friend Andrei” (我的朋友安德烈), “The Cripple” (跛人), “Long Sleep” (长眠), “The Rogue”(无赖), “Sniper’s Shot” (冷枪), and “Big Road” (大路), see Shuang, Moses on the Plains, 55-185.

[6] “Scrapped Beings” (报废者) is a term used by David Der-wei Wang, “The Revelation of Yanfen Street—Shuang Xuetao’s Moses on the Plains,” originally published in Wenyi zhengming (文艺争鸣) no. 7 (2019), also accessible at https://xw.qq.com/cmsid/20191111A034LX00 (accessed 2020-08-27).

[7] Ban Yu 班宇, Winter Swim (冬泳) (Shanghai: Sanlian shudian, 2018), 44.

[8] Shuang, The Aviator, 21-95, 121-176; Moses on the Plains, 1-54.

[9] Chengguan (城管) is shorthand for Chengshi zhifa guanli (城市执法管理, The Urban Administrative and Law Enforcement Bureau), which is a controversial bureau of municipal management established around the millennium with the purpose of enhancing order in major Chinese cities. Over the years, incidents of forceful confiscations of unregistered street vending facilities have been reported, sometimes resulting in violent clashes between staff and society and contributing to chengguan’s infamous reputation of heartless ineptitude. The venders are often China’s newly unemployed and desperate to defend what is practically their only means of livelihood. A fictional reference to such a case is found in Shuang, Moses on the Plains, 29.

[10] Ibid., 53.

[11] Ibid., 54.

[12] The Five Books of Moses is the first on the booklist that Li Fei asks her clinician friend Sun Tianbo to borrow from the municipal library on her behalf, see, ibid., 15-18, 32.

[13] Li Fei and her father Li Shoulian live a carefully guarded life; her visits to the clinic feel like those of a fugitive, reliant on a secret code in the form of a pot of African jasmines that Sun places on the window ledge, see, ibid., 48.

[14] For an English translation of “In a Bamboo Grove,” see Ryunosuke Aukutagawa, Rashomon and Seventeen Other Stories, translated by Jay Rubin, London: Penguin Classics, 2009, 10-19. Another story with a very similar multi-narrator structure is “Tale of Thankful Repayment” (Hōonki,報恩記), written shortly after “In a Bamboo Grove”; a Chinese translation of this story is available in Akutagawa, Selected Short Stories of Ryunosuke Akutagawa (芥川龙之介短篇小说选), translated by Gao Huiqin(高慧勤) (Guilin: Lijiang, 2012), 149-158. Rashōmon (羅生門), Akira Kurosawa’s famous cinematic adaptation of Akutagawa’s work in 1950, combines two stories—“In a Bamboo Grove” and “Rashomon”—and features four narrators including the dead samurai himself speaking through a medium. Their accounts overlap yet contradict with each other’s, their incongruence suggesting each narrator’s share of the responsibility for the unfortunate incident.

[15] Shuang, Moses on the Plains, 35-36.

[16] Ibid., 23.

[17] Compared to the other stories that have a more prevalent use of “I” in telling, “The Aviator” blends the third- and first-person perspectives, assigning the former to relate the past, reserving the latter for updating in the present. The characters presented in these two different modes turn out to belong to the same family. Occupying the center of the more objective narration is Li Mingqi, an unlikely worker-inventor obsessed with his futuristic idea of a wearable personal flying vehicle; he turns out to be “my” uncle by marriage, see Shuang, The Aviator, 123-176.

[18] Among the remaining stories in these two volumes, quotation marks are partially used and do not account for all the dialogues presented.

[19] Ban, Winter Swim, 207, 218, 228-229.

[20] Jin Yucheng 金宇澄, Blossoms (繁花) (Beijing: Renmin wenxue, 2019). It was first published in the prestigious literary magazine Harvest (收获) (Fall/Winter, 2012).

[21] The number of over 1,500 of the silences indicated by “xxx does not speak” (xxx不响) is mentioned in Yan Bin and Jin Yucheng, “Interview with Jin Yucheng on Literature: God is Silent, Studying the Blossoms,” (金宇澄文学访谈录: 上帝无言,细看繁花),  https://book.ifeng.com/zuojia/detail_2014_09/09/123853_2.shtml (accessed 2020-08-27).

[22] Anonymous author, “Shuang Xuetao: This Novelist Is Extraordinary, A Literary New Wave Not to Be Slighted!” (双雪涛:这个小说家不一般,不可小觑的文学“后浪”!), https://www.sohu.com/a/352004259_475768 (accessed 2020-07-29).

[23] Shuang, Moses on the Plains, 54, 75, 107, 198-199, 217; The Aviator, 18-19, 72-95.

[24] Huang, “An Overview of ‘New Northeast Writers Group’;” the water motif is discussed in Yu Chao喻超, “Historical Memory and the Narration of Trauma—on Shuang Xuetao’s Literary Works (东北老工业基地的历史记忆与创伤叙述——关于双雪涛的文学创作), unpublished, cited in Huang’s discussion.

[25] Shuang, The Aviator, 97-120, 217-277; Haruki Murakami, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, translated and adapted by Alfred Birnbaum with the participation of the author (New York: Vintage International, 1993).

[26] Shuang, The Aviator, 279-302.