Chi Zijian: Journey to Literature Paradise

November 18, 2016


The image of monk Xuan Zang in Journey to the West has rooted deeply in people's mind. Meanwhile, Xuan Zang, a movie directed by Huo Jianqi, depicted how the Tang monk Xuan Zang went to the Western Heaven to acquire scriptures. Like religion believers, each writer follows his or her journey to literature paradise. On 9th November, the famous writer Chi Zijian was invited by HUST to give Humanities Lectures on her journey to literature paradise.

At the audiences’ anxious expectation, Chi Zijian finally appeared on the podium of Humanities Lecture at 7 p.m. Chi Zijian started her lecture by expressing her sincere gratitude to the host and our students. She said, “I have been to many universities, but I was particularly touched by your trust and hospitality”.


            The Snowy North Gave Birth to Inspiration

Chi Zijian was born in one of China’s most northern villages in Greater Khingan Range– the Arctic village, where it snows half a year.

"In November, the ground has been covered with ice and snow. Then we will sit around the fireplace for warmth, drinking tea and baking potato chips on the stove. Besides, I would like to join the adults, listening to the seniors telling strange tales.” Through her vivid description, we could experience that she cherished her memory as a child in her hometown.

In Chi Zijian's view, it was these folk myths and legends that made the essence of novels, and those novels without such myths and legends were mostly like soft persimmons, which were sweet but could not be chewed. Her ancestors rushed to Northeast with these strange tales, which exerted a lasting influence and gave enlightenment on her literature works.

There remained nomadic tribes of Oroqen and Ewenki living in Greater Khingan Range, “They believe in animism”. The local inherited strange tales and primitive religious worship of local ethnic groups made differences in Chi Zijian’s works. Chi Zijian said with a smile, “Perhaps as many people hold the historical materialism today, the strange tales are too absurd for them. However, this is one part of literature, which can be developed and add brilliance to my novels. "

Strange tales made Chi Zijian’s works beyond our daily experience,“I always thought that the person who had left our world was only to go to another space, they communicated with us by other means. And it would be very interesting if science proved that the soul had weight."

When it came to Chi Zijian's visit in 2000 to the former residence of Grieg, a Norway Composer, Chi Zijian affectionately hummed the melody. At that time, the host invited the pianists to play for them. She found that the door of the hall balcony would open its own from time to time when the pianists were playing. “It’s just like that Grieg wanted to listen to his own melody and pushed the door into the room from the balcony." This feeling inspired Chi Zijian and was recorded in her work, Rain at Dusk of Grieg Sea.

“I am neither the descendant of a notable writer nor an eminent family”. These strange tales and local primitive religion was the cradle of the Chi Zijian’s works.

Having Seen the Nature, She Came to Know How Desolate and Warm the World Is

The landscape is magnificent in Greater Khingan Range. Sparsely populated, it is the paradise of flora and fauna.

It is a long winter in Greater Khingan Range every year. No matter what extreme weather it was during every winter holiday, Chi Zijian would accompany her father climb to the hill and pull firewood with cart and snow sledge. Chi Zijian remembered it clearly, for it was a long and painful period. Spring in Greater Khingan Range is all over in the blink of an eye, when on the mountains blossom the wild azalea.

“I would go to pick the wild azalea in spring, then went home and inserted these flowers in wine bottles, canned pork bottles and abandoned pig trough. I loved the flowers with fruit. At that time, there was a wood behind our primary school. I would slip away and into the wood to pick a pocket of fruits during each setting-up exercise in class break, which could last me one lesson.” Chi Zijian said with a warm smile as a little girl.

Nature is changeable. Those picked flowers, which haven’t been appreciated by people, will always wither without awareness. “So is people’s life.” In her hometown, a coffin was arranged in in front of the door in each family. From her childish perspective, the coffin represented the funeral and mourning hall. It left a desolate and unforgettable impression on Chi Zijian’s childhood. "I knew very early that there was an end to life, and death was sometimes unexpected. When I was a child, my classmate passed away as a result of being injected with wrong medicine for dysentery. His death shaded my heart a lot."

Indeed, sadness is never far away from us. However, Chi Zijian is constantly seeking for warmth. In her view, warmth comes naturally in her tragic works, White Snow’s Cemetery, Chi Zijian wrote about the scene when her father passed away.

My mother looked at father’s closed eyes and forbore to shed her tears, “At that moment, I found that there was a red bean in my mother's eyes, and thought there was some problems in her eyes. Afterwards, she secretly went to the cemetery to search for a tomb without a monument. When my mother went back, she said, ‘When I came to your father's tomb, my heart beats a lot. I knew this was your father's tomb.’” Chi Zijian found that when her mother told her about it, the red bean in her eyes disappeared, as if her father had turned into a red bean and lingered on their home. At last, he leaved without worry until her mother had come to see him. At that time, Chi Zijian's eyes were full of tears.

Perhaps it is a warm story, as for Chi Zijian, in fact, it’s desolate. Warmth comes only due to her tirelessly seek. “My father and my husband's early death made me sorrow. The wind, frost, rain and snow of nature just like the spring, summer, autumn and winter of life. In this land of my hometown, I have seen life and death, and then seen the spring. These dead plants would sprout in spring as usual."

Female Is Not a Label

"Some critics have always felt that my works are lack of female images, and I respect their opinions. However, I am skeptical about this kind of constructive criticism." Chi Zijian said with seriousness.

Chi Zijian convinced that the relation between man and woman was like that between the sun and the moon, which is interdependent with each shining in the sky. “The biggest difference between man and woman is that women possess the most direct and distinct cognition towards life in the reproductive process. Therefore, woman may be more tolerant and love life."

“I dislike that the writers are classified by their gender, for it is of arrogance and prejudice.” In Chi Zijian's view, these works with female images should be the natural expression of their emotions, rather than for their own label affixed to the female. But it requires women to have their own thought as well as freedom of the soul. Our society should also give our female more equal rights to develop as their male counterparts.

Some female images in film and television works in recent years have deeply disappointed Chi Zijian, for more female became after money or fame and lost their own spirits. She felt sad and mourned for the female images in Yuan Drama, who were unyielding, noble and pure.

In Sophie's Choice, Sophie could only choose to one of the children to survive in the Nazi concentration camps. “Many people thought that Sophie chose her son to survive for "male superiority to female", but from my perspective, it was because that, as a female, she knew that woman was more devoted. She wanted her daughter to be devoted as herself.” Chi Zijian expressed her view, full of reverence and expectation.

Literature Should Be Popularized With its Root in Our Cultural Tradition

Chi Zijian recalled that she came across an old couple on the train in 2000- a man with dementia and his wife. They were going to the man’s work place by train so as to prove that he was still alive with his handprint and should draw pension.

Chi Zijian felt sympathy for him. When she went to the London Book Fair, Chi Zijian was not accessible to UK with her handprint taken in Beijing. "In fact, this kind of barrier existed around the world, which is not peculiar to our country."

It's all very well if my works are known by more people, but it’s not rational to follow others to please the public. At the University of Iowa, Chi Zijian and Liu Heng watched many movies in different countries, but many topics of those movies were about gay, which made Chi Zijian convinced that the phenomenon to follow suit did exist.

Chi Zijian believed that it's all very well if one’s works were known by more people in terms of personalized literature writing, but the work couldn’t stand without the soul of our land and nation. When I was young, I thought that the world was as big as the Arctic village. Then I grew up and went to many places around the world, and found that the world was large. However, I came to be aware that my life was only around the Arctic village after I had visited more places."  

In this era of globalization, each artist needs to harbor his broader vision, tolerance and courage, more important to embrace humanistic care. Therefore, his or her work should be popularized. But only with its root in our cultural tradition and by following our own heart and cherishing sunlight and shadow, fertile and barren land under our foot can the literature last long.

In order to acquire scriptures and preach his religion, Xuan Zang embarked his own Journey to the west. But for the literature, everyone should develop his or her own writing style. “I do not know whether my experience inspires any one of you. I went to a lot of places, and saw mountains and rivers from the Greater Khingan Range. I know there is no end to literature journey. It’s a long journey with twists and turns as well as magnificence and brilliance."

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