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Zhang Yueran and Ten Tales of Love

Born in the early 1980s, Zhang Yueran started writing at the age of 14, and it wasn't long before her compositions began to appear in several well-known literary magazines throughout China.

She is currently studying at the National University of Singapore, where she majors in computer science. "Ten Tales of Love" is her fifth publication.

The simple title describes exactly what you can find within the book's covers; ten short stories about love. But perhaps the title is the only orthodox thing about this book, since the stories featured are particularly unusual love stories, where many of the characters don't even have names and often engage in bizarre interaction with the already deceased.

In the eyes of Han Rui, the editor of Ten Tales of Love, Zhang Yueran is quite unique in her writings.

"Her words are similar to someone who is unable to keep their feet on the ground, someone who flies instead of walking. You can always feel a sense of surrealism within her stories, and you will also find new words and language that she has created."

Zhang Yueran believes that these ten stories are markedly different from her previous works. The maturing experience of living abroad has played its part in the creation of stories with more intense conflicts, more dramatized plots, and more extreme characters.

In these ten stories, Zhang Yueran wants to tell her readers about her feelings towards love; an emotion that she does not feel is limited to the love between a man and a woman.

"I believe that love cannot easily be categorized. In my opinion, we can maybe only say that love is either 'deep' or 'shallow.' This is my standard for the measurement of love. There are various kinds of love, such as fraternal affection, friendship, and the love between two generations…but they are always mixed together. The only difference is found in the depth of the love."

In Ten Tales of Love, we read of "bleeding, tearing, fracturing and
pulverizing," as different kinds of pain that can result from the deepest kind of love.

"I prefer extremity. In reality, many people adhere to the doctrines of mediocrity and abstinence. But most of the characters in my stories are quite the opposite, and they enjoy the feeling of being extreme. They maybe behave in this way because of my own preferences; the characters I like best are those who are of strong character and moral integrity. "

Love that is this deep can often end in disaster. Bai Ye, a researcher at the Institute of Literature at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences has noticed the tragic side of love that can be found in Zhang Yueran's stories.

"The tragic sense of love is fully revealed in her works, and she concentrates on the profound impact of love on people's fates. Love can bring us sorrow as well as happiness. It seduces and controls us, and will lead to tragedy when unrestrained…This book has achieved something profound concerning the understanding of the human condition."

In the story, "the Dancing People Sleep Eternally under the Hill," a girl called Xiao Xi runs away from her own wedding after experiencing an illusion involving her first boyfriend. In her illusion, this boyfriend, who died six years ago, takes her away to the hillside where they used to play together. However, on the way, she is crushed by a truck and dies. The following extract brings the story to a close.

"She saw the road, stretching down to the foot of the hill. She will dance on this hill with her lover and they will sleep here together forever.

It was noon exactly when she rushed out of the wedding hall. Standing in the gleaming sunshine, she ran with her Cici towards their hillside. As the truck crushed her body with its weight, she heard Cici saying:

'Close your eyes. Have you experienced the soil's fragrant smell?'

Following these words, she closed her eyes.

The sunlight was so intense that day, but the driver was surprisingly sleepy. The calla lilies in their bouquets were curling inwards, weak and weary, like crying faces."

Zhang Yueran shows a peculiar imagination in her stories, which use many images and parables that you will not have encountered before. The stories all have a surrealistic edge to them, but a surrealism that often surrounds the inner structure of something as traditionally simple as a fairy tale.

"I firmly believe that adults need fairy tales. The fairy tales that adults need are also concerned with love, but are more complex in terms of the relationships between characters. "

Her story "Harp and White Bone Demon" can thus be classified as a fairy tale. A man is married to a tiny demon made of beautiful white bone, and wants to make a perfect harp by using the bones of his wife. The little white bone demon is willing to fulfill her husband's wishes, and remove her bones one after another. When her husband has taken all of her bones, she is unable to do anything more than lie on the bed, but the harp is finished. Finally she kills herself using the most beautiful bone of the harp. This is a story of love and sacrifice, which Zhang Yueran says was inspired by Hans Christian Anderson's Little Mermaid.

Within Chinese literary circles, Zhang Yueran is noted as one of the "post-80s writers." The writers of this generation are not just united by their recent successes and fame, but also by similar personal characteristics which could be said to affect their writing.

"As the first generation to grow up under China's one child policy, without brothers and sisters, we have to face loneliness, which we have experienced since we were born. We have stronger desires than previous generations to express our feelings and confide. Therefore, I am used to having internal conversations, and writing is really another way of having discussions within myself."

In the preface of this book, Zhang Yueran expresses her understanding of love with the following metaphor. So if you would, please follow her example now by closing your eyes, and thinking about your own happiness and sorrow in relation to love.

"The relationship between love and people is perhaps just like the spinning top and its partner, the whip. The lashes of the whip upon the top assist it in its spinning, but also bring it harm and pain. However, you shouldn't concentrate on the pain. Instead you should close your eyes as I do, and listen silently to the blowing of the wind. That is the sound of the whip and the spinning top singing together."

(CRI October 22, 2004)

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