Tie Ning has four sets of eyes, one as a citizen, one as a countrywoman; one as a man and one as a woman. She observes the countryside through looking at things as a citizen, and casts her gaze as a countrywoman on city life. Likewise, she can tell stories of women from a man's point of view. All the characters she has written, no matter man or woman, citizen or countryman, are able to stand out vividly as real people to her readers. She is an inborn writer with strong and natural story-telling ability.
Born in Beijing in 1957, Tie Ning went to the countryside to experience rural life in 1975. In 1979 she was transferred to the Baoding Branch of the Chinese Federation of Art and Literature and in 1984 to the Creative Writing Workshop of Hebei Province. She is now vice chairperson of the Chinese Writers Association and chairperson of the Hebei Provincial Writers Association. Her Ah, Xiangxue won a national award as one of the best short stories of 1982, The Red Shirt Without Buttons and June's Big Topic won national awards in 1984. Since 1980, Tie Ning has published Path in the Night and other collections of short stories and novellas.
Invention and honesty
In Tie's eyes, there is a tendency among Chinese novelists to neglect honesty in their writing. She remembers a trip to the countryside, where she once caught sight of a small restaurant along the country road. An old man was having a kind of local dish of noodle while seated on a wooden stool in the restaurant. But when her eyes went up to the name of the restaurant, she exclaimed with surprise. It was called the Hilton Hotel.
The Hilton Hotel phenomenon is common in contemporary Chinese novel writing. No writer will be happy if distinguished by superficial writing. So they tend to render the story with deeper thoughts, a thought sometimes hard to understand for normal readers. How deep a novel goes into the reader's heart does not rely on the tactical arrangement of the deep thoughts. It all comes naturally from the sense of the life of the story.
An old writer told Tie more than once that honesty is a must in one's life. But when it comes to novel writing, things are different. It's just far too hard to be honest in writing. But Tie thinks to be honest will help a writer reach a new standard and greater wisdom.
Rubbish and partial life
Talking about other female writers, Tie thinks that no one can give a full picture of the world. One, instead, can just reflect the life he or she is experiencing. Partial understanding of life is just unavoidable. So, when judging a writer we may dislike, one must try to throw off preconceived biases and hold back possible complaints. Every writer is expressing his of her own feelings about life with his or her heart and words, whether we are inclined to agree with them.
Since 1979, a large number of women writers have emerged within Chinese literature. Although with different ages and experiences, they are a fresh breeze and their works are as good as any male novelists on the horizon. Especially in the 90s, more great works appeared by female writers, so excellent as to be irreplaceable.
Writing and working
Tie, as vice chairperson of the Chinese Writers Association and chairperson of the Hebei Provincial Writers Association, must deal with a lot of administrative work. Meetings, dinners and parties, and other social activities take up much of her time. But Tie does not see the work as a burden. She said she found a sense of achievement when she finally saw to the construction of a writers' building for the Hebei Provincial Writers Association. Without her efforts and communication with related government departments, the building would not have been built. And writers in the association would not share a comfortable and convenient place to write and converse.
Tie thinks that if inspiration does come knocking at one's door, large amounts of time won't necessarily lead to a novel. So she continues writing when she goes back home. And some of her most important novels have been done when her schedule has been busiest.
Ah, Xiangxue (1982)
This is a story about a pure and pretty country girl, Xiangxue, fragrant snow in Chinese. Xiangxue lives in a village in mountains. Every day, a train from the outside of the mountains stops at the village just for a minute. Xiangxue and other country girls take a small basket of eggs to the train when it stops and exchange them for things they because they can't get what they need within the village. Xiangxue carries the basket onto the train, and when she sees a pencil box beside a city girl of her age, she dreams to have it without hesitation. She offers her full basket of eggs for it and receives it. It opens up a door to the outside world for her.
The Village Road Takes Me Home (1983)
Tie Ning is critical of the masculinity model for grounding subjectivity on opposition to the power of the party/state and assuming responsibility over women's lives. This model is concretized in two male characters who both want to marry the female protagonist because they feel responsible for her earlier marriage to a peasant, which left her a widow and prevented her from returning to the city after the policy of sending educated youths to rural China ended.
In her story of the female protagonist's choice between the two, which entails the significant and ideologically loaded choice between the city and the countryside, Tie Ning reveals the complicity of the masculinity model of subjectivity in the party/state's dominant ideology despite its apparent oppositional stance. In its place, she offers the protagonist's feminine understanding of subjectivity as determining one's life-course based on one's own needs, desires, and abilities rather than with reference to-either in opposition or compliance-the party-state and its ideology.
How Long is Forever (1999)
Bai Daxing is a typical girl brought up in Beijing's Hutongs. She is a kind girl who is always willing to offer help to everybody around her without any consideration of her own interests. But the innocent Bai is cheated once and again by the friends who have received her help, and even her whole heart. The people she trusts most are making use of her purity and warm-heartedness, which leaves Bai with less and less… Bai's personality does not seem to be in accordance with the times. Tie uses Bai to emphasize how far a modern society is from forever.
Da Yu Nv (2000)
Yin Xiaotiao is a middle-aged woman. Yin's mother loves another man and abandons the family when she's young.
And Yin's younger sister is more like her competitor rather than a close family member. Her lover, a big film star is found to be a selfish person who knows nothing but his own interests…
Tie puts a microscope on the leading character, through which readers get a clear picture of a middle-aged woman with nonstop miserable experiences. Through Yin's life Tie reexamines relationships like friendship, love and relationships
(chinaculture October 8, 2005)