Jia Pingwa: “Make the Best Use of Your Cloud”
On April 11th, Jia Pingwa, a laureate of Maodun Literature Prize, lectured to the students of the Chinese Language and Literature Department in room D306, Building Dongjiu Lou.
“There are two troubles in my life, one is my not-so-handsome look, another is my accent.”Jia Pingwa kicked off his lecture with his humor. “Mandarin is not for me, Shannxi dialect is my tongue.” “Draft before speech is also my habit,”Jia continued,“See this is my draft for today’s lecture.”Students there burst into great laughter.
Content take precedence over Techniques
“Personally, I feel that literature is now being marginalized. Many of us are missing the good old days back in the 1980s, when literature was extremely popular, an author stood a chance to be famous overnight for his works, a short story could be read nationwide. It’s mainly because the literature then was used as a means of news media. However, with the rapid development of information technology, literature is nothing more than just literature. It’s only a special activity for small group of people.” In his point of view, the current time is an age of legend, it is also the age of weirdness, nothing is impossible. “Perhaps I am too old, I often felt at sea by the window. I watched the skyscrapers and advertising board, I find them novel and surprising. For example, Weight loss is now quite popular, but I doubt if it’s really conducive to people’s well-being? Cosmetic surgery makes people the figures in the gallery, there’s no point being beautiful like that.” He said, from his perspective, literature nowadays is facing similar issue, it is in crisis. “There’s too much floridness in present works, they boasts only florid looks, like Cloisonné from Qing Dynasty. However, the classics don’t, they are simple but powerful.”
The essence of literature is contents and writing techniques. “We are supposed to emphasize that the contents take precedence over techniques in composition, especially when China is in huge consumption, entertainment, when there’s underlying crisis.” He thought that the marginalization didn’t mean extinction of literature, “More and more folks are taking literature as their hobby. Literature is part of human’s instinct, and literature is to our spirit as a meal to our body. When we are hungry, we need to eat.
Jia Pingwa insisted that everyone had the potential to create marvelous works, but marvelous works depend on nurture environment and authors’ efforts. When recalling the days when he create “Zhuomu She”, a literature association, forty years ago, he said: “Despite the poor working condition back then, we had great passion for literature. We kept writing, immersed ourselves in literature. We kept producing pieces of works like hens lay eggs. Indeed, composition is not easy, but we experience sense of achievement and joy when something remarkable is created. I had been an editor for a long time, gaining experience through years of hard work. Finally, when I just feel being an expert, I find myself already an old man, the energy and passion I had have waned. I’d check up in the kitchen for something to eat when I keep writing for two hours at most.” Then a voice came from the students: “Me too!”
literature is kind of Chán Sect
“To teach literature is as to teach the Chán sect, many things may not be correct if you try to describe them with words. Literature is the last thing to be taught, I think literature is actually something experts wrote to a special group of people, not everyone could understand.” That explains why Jia Pingwa stressed on the outlooks on life and literature more than specific literature theory:“You can learn other tips in later practice, but outlooks on literature is paramount” Jia said.
Writing is the deeply-buried instinct of a writer. Every author has their own fate, they need to produce their own works. The urge to write is in their blood, just like no one can stop hens laying eggs, because that’s their nature.”
Jia Pingwa encountered the Cultural Revolution when he was in the ninth grade. Schools were closed at that time. There was a shabby library in his school, Jia sneaked into with his fellows and “borrowed” books. “It was dark in there, I couldn’t see clearly what I was borrowing. Finally, I smuggled an essay collection of Lu Xun, the first volume of A Dream of Red Mansion, and the story of Mining. I was at a young age, but I got an eye for the Dream of red mansion, I could understand the conversation between the princes and princesses. I didn’t finish the Story of Mining, because I never experienced mining life. Well, although I never experience the life in the Dream of Red Mansion, either.
Reflect on the Relationship between Pillars and Mansion
When talking about the motive of composition, Jia Pingwa said: “When reading other’s story, you may have an impulse to write down your own story. In the beginning, it’s on the spur of the moment. When moving deeper, you will feel the sense of duty, then you realize that being an author is not easy. ” “An author lives on his works” he added. Jia Pingwa also said that there’s too much about literature, while there are some questions on literature he could never figure out for the rest of his life.
Jia Pingwa often felt bewildered when he was young. He had self-doubt that he may not be successful and no one would recognize him while his peers were making money, taking office, dating girls. He said: “I had sought advice from many experts, editors, all of them bet against my success. So, I encourage you to be nonconformists, some are meant to be meteoric success, while some are meant to wait, all you need to do is to take stock and believe in yourselves.”
When it came to how Jia Pingwa created his novels, he said that when you write, the fate of protagonist must intertwine with the times, so that the story is not only a story of a person, but the story of the times. In that way, the story could be a truly great story. He used a metaphor: “Writing is like growing a flower, it doesn’t matter where you grow it. In the yard or by the road of front door, both are okay. When you smell its fragrance, everyone passing by will smell it, too.” He also highlighted: “The materials you used in your story need to have resonance for the readers and intertwine with the times, you also need to pay close attention to our society. Our society is very sophisticated, so my advice for you is to stay sensitive and connect yourselves with the society, to see things from different perspective. Try to grasp the trend of social development and be a visionary, show intensity in your works relating to the society. With all theses in mind, your works could be closer to true greatness.”
Make the Best Use of Your Cloud
“I’ve talked about the techniques. Well, actually, techniques are about wisdom. It is reflected on the language. As for language, you use it to express yourselves precisely. I think language has an intimate bearing on yourselves, the way you write is exactly the way you think and talk.” Speaking of language, Jia Pingwa thought writing is talking, everyone has their own style.
When telling a story, first of all, you need to tell a clear story, then you try to make it fascinating. When you are telling a fascinating story, your language surely pass muster with the readers. “Some works are in a muddle, that’s because the author hasn’t formed his own style. Some authors evolve their own style, but the contents are absurd, this indicate that the author is absurd per se. Some has a very good application of metaphor and simile, the description is beyond reproach, but there’s no backbone in the spirit, this means the author knows just a trick or two. If the paper is lifeless, the author must be insipid, even the author is a good person, their story can’t be compelling.” Jia Pingwa believed that you could see through the author via his works, their language indicated their fortune, morality, mentality, and code of conduct. Maybe you could even see the author’s face, more or less. “For example, in a review article of a football match, the author mocked the poor performance of a football star, and said that star didn’t deserve such a beautiful wife. All these reviews revealed the author’s envy.”
The rhythm of language is also crucial. Rhythm is the breath of language. “Breath is vital to life, anything in this world needs to breathe, a desk, a chair, everything. Think about it, everything can’t stop breathing, the more important they are, the more air they will need. All the living things are tender inside, if you want your works to be alive, you need to let them breathe, every word, every paragraph, give some air to them. The slower the rhythm, the better. Like a slow exhalation. Think about Erhu and Tai Chi, you need to be slow and gentle. All great works are endowed with great rhythm.” In order to create great rhythm, he thought the author must be patient, “Writing often gets people irritable. So, it’s very likely that you may have a very good beginning but get in a muddle in the middle if you get irritated or are lack of patience.”
“The possibility of narrative is infinite, the narrative determines the contents. When you use extreme narrative, the plot, the characters, and the language will go to extreme and be absurd. With extreme narrative, your works can surely cause strong emotional impact. But you need to realize that even those distorted and absurd stuff are based on realities, you need to tread on realities to move to higher state. Without the capability to handle reality, there’s no point creating something can easily crumble even if they look very grand. Such works bring readers nothing more than emotional impact, they can’t be as far-reaching as you want them to be.” He used an analogy with the line drawing narrative from Tang and Song Dynasty. Line drawing won’t make your works that much emotional, but it makes your works savoury. However, line drawing somewhat makes the structure tedious, less powerful, which is not suitable for mass reading, still, it makes your works savoury. He said authors need further trials to make better combination of extreme narrative and line drawing narrative.
At the end of the lecture, Jia Pingwa pointed out that: “No bewilderment, no writing. You can’t compose if you already had nothing confused in your mind. For example, the more you experience, the more you know about each other in a relationship, the less impetuous you will become to get married. Marriage, to some extent, is an impetuous decision for many people.”
He concluded that there are three defining elements for composition: modernity, tradition, and folk culture. “First and foremost, your works need to keep up with the times, you won’t pass muster with too old-fashioned ideas. Second, you can’t forget about tradition, if you want to go western way, you need to know about western history. If you want to go oriental way and write about China, remember, beginning with folk culture will further your tradition, and tradition is the basis.” Many people feel like generalizing those original stuff from western countries as modern thinking. However, Jia Pingwa held the view that modern thinking is to think of the majority of people all around the world, to be clear about what they want, what they are doing, what they are seeking. The awareness of current trend is the real modern thinking.
“It’s the sun that shines behind the cloud”. “Before I took a flight, I thought it’s just cloud high above in the sky, it rains, it snows, and it blows the wind. After I took a flight, I found out that it’s all sunlight behind the cloud.” Jia Pingwa thought that this world consists of different classes, different peoples, even on the grounds of difference, we need to know that religions, philosophy, and aesthetics from different countries share the same ultimate expression. He explained with a metaphor: “The sunlight come from the same source, while the clouds in difference areas have different shapes. Since God put me under this area, there’s no need to parody the description of clouds in other areas. All I need to is to do my utmost to describe what happens in my area, to write about my clouds, the rain, and the snow. When I write about my clouds, I am aware that, high above my clouds, I share the same sunlight as any other areas. What’s different is about the clouds, the rain, and the snow. That’s how we connect different stories with the same ultimate expression, and the same is true for the relationship between our stories and modernity.” At that moment, this whole lecture hall was listening.
He concluded his speech with a sage’s quote: “When dedicate yourselves to God, do not brag to God how great the storm is, you should tell the storm how great your God is.”
Then it came to Q&A, Wang Shenzhi, a Chinese Linguistic Literature major, from College of Humanities, raised a question: “Mr. Jia, I read some sexual description in your work, I also read a review of comparison of sexual descriptions between yours works and the White Deer Plain of Mr. Chen Zhongshi. So, what do you think of the function of sexual description in fictions, is it inevitable?” Jia Pingwa noticed the awkwardness on the questioner, so he replied with amiable smile: “Well, there’s not that much sexual description in my works, actually it’s only about Deserted City.” The hall was filled with laughter at the mention of Deserted City, “Sexual description is actually very subtle, now you accepted it, but I was overwhelmed by a flood of critics from the public in 1993. My intention was simple, I just wanted to write about trivial stuff, eat, drink, men, women, no big deal. I reckon I wrote about many things, eating, traveling. I just don’t feel right to go through a day without writing. In Deserted City, Zhuang Zhidie thought he could save all the women around him, he thought he could save the world. In the end, he saved nobody, instead, he got himself and his wife killed. He would go to women whenever he wanted to. I reckon I wrote about sex for the same ambiguous motive.” He added, “Nowadays, people are not that interested about sexual description. The good sex writers are generally those who never had sex and crave sex. As for me, I seldom wrote about sex after I get married.” The hall was filled with laugher again.
A brief introduction: Jia Pingwa, born in Dihua Town, Shannxi Province, on February 21st, 1952. He is a Chinese novelist and short story writer. He began to publish his works in 1974, graduated from Northwest University School of Arts in 1975. He published Ghost City and Apricot in February in 1982. He created a new monthly prose journal called Pretty Words. Deserted City was published in 1993. He won the first National Short Story prize in 1997 by Man Yue’er. From 2003, he served as the dean of the school of Humanities and the dean of the college of Arts in Xi'an University of Architecture and Technology. His Shannxi Opera won the seventh Mao Dun Literature Prize. Ji Hua, a 160-thousand-word novel of Jia Pingwa, was published in full on the issue 1 of People's Literature in 2016. It is considered as the shortest story among Jia Pingwa’s novels.
I seldom wrote about sex after I get married.” The hall was filled with laugher again.
A brief introduction:
Jia Pingwa, born in Dihua Town, Shannxi Province, on February 21st, 1952. He is a Chinese novelist and short story writer. He began to publish his works in 1974, graduated from Northwest University School of Arts in 1975. He published Ghost City and Apricot in February in 1982. He created a new monthly prose journal called Pretty Words. Deserted City was published in 1993. He won the first National Short Story prize in 1997 by Man Yue’er. From 2003, he served as the dean of the school of Humanities and the dean of the college of Arts in Xi'an University of Architecture and Technology. His Shannxi Opera won the seventh Mao Dun Literature Prize. Ji Hua, a 160-thousand-word novel of Jia Pingwa, was published in full on the issue 1 of People's Literature in 2016. It is considered as the shortest story among Jia Pingwa’s novels.