Hong Kong is a land of miracles. Its popular literary boasts tremendous readership in Hong Kong, on the Chinese mainland, Taiwan and wherever Chinese live. Dubbed Three Miracles in HK's literary circles, romantic stories by Yi Shu, martial art novels by Jin Yong and science fictions by Ni Kuang have enjoyed unbelievable popularity for decades among all the Chinese people. As a female writer, Yi Shu stands out with her romantic but sober stories and concise and fashionable style.
Yi was born in Shanghai. She published her first short story when she was fifteen and has since become one of Hong Kong's best-known popular fiction writers, with a truly prolific output. Her representative works include Story of the Rose and Once Deeply in Love.
Yi is a prolific writer, with more than 180 works published: full-length and shorter novels, short stories. Her writings are a vivid depiction of middle class life in Hong Kong, from the point of view of someone who has been influenced by both Western and Chinese cultural values.
Yi's family, which was an average middle class family, moved to Hong Kong from the mainland when she was a child. She is a natural writer and had her first story published when she was only 16. She worked as a journalist, and many of the events she covered gave her access to the upper echelons of Hong Kong society. She draws from this experience when writing her novels.
After establishing her reputation as a writer of idealistic romantic novels, Yi has branched out in recent years, and her works now include ghost stories, tales about dreams or unexplained phenomena and "life lesson stories" -- moralistic tales about how to deal with everyday problems. Although no market research has been done, it is estimated that more than 80 percent of Yi's readers are women aged between 15 and 35. Not only is she an extremely popular writer in Hong Kong, but her fiction is also widely read in mainland China, Singapore, Malaysia and other Southeast Asian countries.
Yi's work contains few cultural or literary references. Her readers prefer something entertaining and interesting, with characters similar to themselves. It is for this reason that Yi Shu is looked down on by the literary world in Hong Kong.
Concise and Despairing
Even the writer's name is invisible at the end of a story, Yi's fictional works are easy to recognize for her unique and concise writing style. Using short sentences, use employs as few words as possible, managing to use pungent tones and providing sober insights into human deep heart.
Novels by Yi can't simply be categorized by comedy or tragedy. They do have a happy ending. But it does not help soothe readers and draws them back from the disappointments and sorrows in life and love. Readers can relate to the characters' ups and downs, and vivid comings and goings.
Men and women under her pen are corrupted, which is not terrible at all. At most, it's woeful. But the terrible thing is that they keep perfectly conscious while they are sinking, and they can do nothing to stop it. They give up all their hope to live better but don't really abandon themselves. They are mean to themselves, and to people around them.
Yi Shu likes to cast a strong shade of gray in all her fiction, leaving readers with the suspicion that she is a cynic who hates the world and scorns it. In reality, she has a great love for society and dreams of gaining warm and true love. But truth turns out to fail her and drives her to be hysterical despairing of the world. In Xibao, one of her stories, she took down a love-and-hate attitude: "I want loads of love. If love is absent, I want health. If health is beyond my reach, I want plenty of money."
Calculating and Independent
Men in Yi's stories are usually disappointing. Just have a look at the characters in My Early Life. The hardworking and honest husband seems to find his true self and the long lost passion all of a sudden, and is determined to live a new life with the pretty actress, abandoning his wife and children; the ambitious colleague working in the company for half of his life, without any chance to be promoted, complains his wife doesn't understand him and chases pretty girl colleagues; the fresh college graduate in his early 20s wants to have an affair with a married woman; and the handsome and gentle and thoughtful man who has a good taste in art turns out to be a gay… They are not bad guys. Just ordinary men.
Most of the women in her stories are wise, diligent white-collar workers who experience hard time in their love affairs and find it too difficult to find their Mr. Right. They have a clear view of the relations between lovers, and do not hold impractical dreams of their future and lives. Love and marriage in their mind are just something that is impossible to be perfect. They are independent and calculating. They are lonely, but do not complain. Even some lucky girls among them find their Mr. Right, they get married through deliberate calculation rather than their emotion and passion.
Cold and Contradictory
It's impressive that most of Yi's novels are set in a cold metropolis where men women are under great pressure in their psyche and character building.
"Yi was brought up in Hong Kong and her stories are Hong Kong in character, keeping the same pace with the vibration of Hong Kong people," says Yi's brother, well known Hong Kong science fiction writer Ni Kuang. "You won't find her stories affected or unnatural. They stand for Hong Kong people's character."
Yi's attitude to love is contradictory. She does believe that there is something in the world that is love -- pure love with no worldly participation. She affirms that the pure love is simply beautiful because no custom, tradition or morality is involved. On the other hand, she knows clearly that pure love has little chance to last in the material world. So love in Yi's stories is a metropolitan game, adding some ingredients to the busy and ordinary daily life. Lovers are ready at any minute to divert their love to someone else within changing society. Marriage is no longer the fruit of love. It's a sober choice after careful calculation of the world.
Xibao is one the Yi's best full-length stories. Xibao is a beautiful, intelligent and elegant girl who is 21 and studies in Cambridge University. One of her best friends, Xu Conghui, is born into a rich family. At Xu's engagement ceremony, both Xu's father and her brother are fascinated with Xibao. Xibao finally accepts Xu's father, an old, charming and rich man in order to guarantee her study and a better life in the university. Mr. Xu's huge wealth facilitates Xibao to be an upper-class lady. But the changes in Xibao's life are confined to the material. Xibao finds her private space intruded upon to a great extent due to Mr. Xu's strong possessive desires. She does not have freedom and everything she does will be reported to Mr. Xu by his men.
The unhappy Xibao picks up her long lost feelings of relaxation when she meets a young German professor and soon falls in love with him. Word comes to Mr. Xu and the enraged man shoots the professor. Later on, Xibao in great sorrow is informed her mother has committed suicide just after her second marriage. Xibao gives up her studies and becomes addicted to alcohol. Money at the moment is not able to settle anything for her. Xibao finds to her sadness that wealthy the Xu family is, none of the family members are happy. Her best friend, Mr. Xu's daughter Conghui, gets married to a man who loves her money instead of her and leaves her husband and the family. Conghui's cowardly brother is on the edge of collapse because his deep and constrained love to Xibao does not get any feedback from her; and, Conghui's seemingly happy sister is afflicted with her husband's affairs with other women. The poor lady is afflicted by cancer and puts her life to an end by herself. Mr. Xu, the millionaire, dies after all the changes to the family.
Xibao inherits Mr. Xu's money but it doesn't appear attractive to her anymore. She has lost her youth, the prime time of her life, her love and most important of all, her strength to live.
In Xibao's eyes, the world is cold and her decision to live with old Mr. Xu is a wise choice. "I won't complain to society. There's nothing wrong with the world itself. It's my own decision," Xibao says. Her choice shows her despair with men and feelings of horror of facing a lonely and poor life. It's a means to make living, and has nothing to do with love. "Love is another matter. It's too luxurious for me to enjoy," Xibao says.
(chinaculture November 4, 2005)