Born in 1950, Zhang Kangkang is one of the leading writers in the contemporary Chinese literary scene. In a career spanning some thirty years, she has published novels, novellas, short stories, memoirs and numerous essays.
She is not very prolific, but her novels are quite popular in China. Not too long ago, she was given the Second Chinese Women's Literature Award for her latest novel, Zuo Nv, or Uproarious Women, which has also won the praise of directors and will be adapted for television in the near future. Let's follow XX to get a close look at this popular contemporary woman writer in China.
The character Kang in Chinese means revolt. Zhang Kangkang once joked that this name put rebelliousness into her blood and destined her to lead a life less ordinary, that didn't exactly follow a straight course.
Like many of her cotemporaries, her experiences during the Cultural
Revolution made a huge impact on her life. As a teenager at the beginning of the Revolution, Zhang threw herself into Mao Zedong's campaign to send educated urban youth away to assist the poor and remote parts of rural China. After they were finally allowed to return to the cities in the late 1970s, many among this generation began to write about their experience. A cultural phenomenon known as "scar literature" was born, and Zhang became one of its leading exponents.
"I left Hangzhou for the Northeast at the age of 19 during the Youth-Go-to-Countryside Campaign. Actually, I was quite willing to go there, for I was filled with youthful idealism. But the truth was that the life I'd hoped to embrace was quite tedious, and only in my mind could I keep a private domain. Like sometimes when I was busy working, I would think how to clean up some of my novel; sometimes, after I finished for the day, I would walk home and a light breeze would allow me to easily recall the scenes described in some Russian novels. At that time, literature served as a kind of spiritual encouragement for me."
Zhang Kangkang worked on a state farm in northeast China's Heilongjiang Province for 8 years. During that period, she was a peasant, bricklayer, as well as a correspondent. Though life on the farm was not much like what she had expected, the writer still felt she had gained a lot from this experience which later nourished her writing in the 1980s. To Zhang Kangkang, experiencing a different life, especially a life full of dangers and frustrations, allowed her to accumulate an abundance of experience, which she thinks is a requirement for a qualified writer.
Zhang Kangkang became a full-time writer when she was assigned to the Heilongjiang Writers Association in 1979 and has won various national prizes for novellas and short stories. Though her first novel was published in 1975, it was the Invisible Partner published almost a decade later that became her first influential work. As a writer, she possesses an excellent sense of art and is good at depicting a character's psychology and unveiling the human spirit with great sensitivity. But when compared with other cotemporary female writers, Zhang's works eschews rational thinking. In The Invisible Partner, She breaks the regular structure of storytelling and puts a lot of effort into portraying characters' mental activities. Symbolism is well-used here to reveal that in every human being's body exists an "invisible partner". This novel, which is filled with psychoanalysis, reflects the author's deep perception of history, society and life. Another masterpiece is Gallery of Love, published in 1996. It tells a complex love story between a woman, her daughter and an artist. The narrative facilitates her deep exploration of human nature in a provocative manor that stirred heated debate shortly after its publication.
Referring to her writings, Zhang offers a wonderful simile that, like a peasant collecting sesame seeds in a filed, she has carefully collected details, including the words and characters in her novels from ordinary life. And the process of writing is just like squeezing oil from these original sesames.
Zuo Nv is Zhang Kangkang's latest work, and was published last year. To the
author's surprise, this work has been discussed for close to a year. The title, Zuo Nv, in some of China's dialects, is slightly derogatory and refers to uproarious who overestimate themselves. But Zhang Kangkang adds a new dimension to the word. She thinks, in another respect, Zuo Nv presents uniquely creative women that are strong enough to give up and embrace a new life. Zhang Kangkang says that all the characters in this novel derived from her friends.
"Most of my female friends are lively and bold, and full of rebel spirits. This really draws my attention. The truth is, in today's China, women are growing as the environment is improving, and it's impossible to suppress or reverse this trend."
She says since the early 1990s, as China became more and more open, women began to play a much more significant role in society. Zuo Nv is simply carrying her perspectives on the existence and spiritual pursuits of Chinese women.
Zhang Kangkang notes that she is a female writer rather than a feminist. As a woman, she believes a harmonious relationship is the key to a stable society, and she also thinks that she is becoming more mature through writing, which is much more important than writing itself.
"I don't want to be a person always complaining about life--complaints are very dreadful. The most important thing I've realized through my writing is that one has to learn how to become a healthy individual. In this sense, literary works are just by-products, and I hope I can grow into a person that I've expected through writing: that is, a tenacious person that is both kind and tolerant. I feel I'm approaching my goal. And I think the transformation is of more significance than my writing."
(CRI February 20, 2004)