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Stories for Saturday

Stories for Saturday: Twentieth-Century Chinese Popular Fiction

Copyright Date: 2003
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    Stories for Saturday
    Book Description:

    In the first half of the twentieth century, urban Chinese regularly lost themselves in tales of scandalous affairs, tender romances, and splendid acts of martial gallantry--standard reading fare on Saturdays among city dwellers craving entertainment and escape. Openly disdained by many intellectuals for their frothy content and maudlin appeal, these tales have been largely ignored in histories and anthologies of modern Chinese fiction both in China and the West. Recently, however, increasing attention has been paid to this fiction and its place in the vibrant tradition of Chinese writing during a period of rapid cultural change. The stories selected and translated here invited Chinese readers to enter worlds at once connected to and removed from their familiar surroundings. Today, the stories have become a record of what urban life was actually like, as well as what readers then wished it to be. Like Chinese from decades past indulging in a pleasurable hour or two on a Saturday afternoon, readers of English can now enjoy and learn from these diverse stories, expertly translated. The volume's afterword provides valuable insights into this long-overlooked area of modern Chinese literature.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6447-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-x)
    T. C. W.
  4. I. Scandal

    • [I. Introduction]
      (pp. 1-4)

      Stories portraying scandals among the rich, powerful, or merely clever in China’s major cities—what was calledheimuor “black curtain” fiction—flourished after the 1910s, tied closely to the rise of modern journalism. Their aim was not muckraking or exposure, even though writers often insist (as do two of them here) that their stories are basically factual, and even though we can extrapolate much from them about China’s social realities in their day. Far from answering any call to better the situations that allow the scandals to take place, these stories sought instead to provide what Perry Link calls...

    • The Confidence in the Game
      (pp. 5-28)
      Zhu Shouju

      On your finger, a diamond is really the tiniest of objects. But its demonic power is beyond all imagination. You may be the handsomest; you may be the smartest. Such qualities might have brought you status and acclaim in times gone by. These days, though, regale yourself as you would with the fanciest of clothes; if a diamond is not gracing that little digit of yours, all you can ever hope to attain is some label like “slick young man.” Dress more plainly and you would not likely escape being dubbed a “poor fellow.” Conversely, should your hand sport a...

    • The Red Chips
      (pp. 29-36)
      Feng Shuluan

      There was much jostling in the unbearably crowded first-and second-class cars on the Beijing-Fengtian rail line for the run from Tianjin to Beijing. A slim, tall, thirtyish gentleman traveler with a southern accent had just gotten on and was looking all around for a seat without finding one. The many foreigners with their leather luggage and uniformed soldiers with their sabers and rifles were taking up most of the seating space, and he was timid about asking them to make room. He hesitated for quite a while before noticing a couple of men with a small leather satchel seated at...

    • Rickshaw Man
      (pp. 37-44)
      Zhang Biwu

      Altogether, it’s been three years since I was hired on as the rickshaw man for the Zhu family. During this time, without counting the monthly salary I was regularly paid, my earnings have not been at all paltry. Why, just last month, I took leave for a few days to return to my home village to buy over tenmouof land in preparation for the future. When I get old and can no longer pull the load, I’ll just go home to the farm and take my ease.

      People have asked me how on earth I, a mere rickshaw...

  5. II. Love

    • [II. Introduction]
      (pp. 45-48)

      In early republican china, even as Western narratives such as Dumas’La Dame aux Caméliaswere becoming known to the public at large, stories dealing with romantic love were relegated to the category of pastime fiction. The label “Mandarin Ducks and Butterflies,” which was quickly applied to all stories written for leisurely escape, originated in fact as a term of disparagement for such tales of personal romance as Xu Zhenya’s (1889–1937)Yuli hun(Jade pear spirit), published in 1912. In a troubled era when serious authors were writing for national salvation, the implication was that love stories, which often...

    • The Bridal Palanquin
      (pp. 49-60)
      Yan Fusun

      A bridal palanquin is covered with multicolored silk and is resplendent with sparkling red lanterns and flower patterns in different hues. It is an extremely eye-catching conveyance, with its mixture of color and light. As it rides along on the shoulders of its bearers, the painted bells on its corners jingle continuously. With the pipes and drums of the band leading the way, it floods the ears with joyous sounds, making young girls clap their little hands and giggle with delight. Which one among them would not wish in her heart of hearts to grow up quickly and choose a...

    • For the Love of Her Feet
      (pp. 61-72)
      He Haiming

      The store selling medium-priced leather footwear was located next to a large amusement park, so that the men and women entering and exiting the park each day had to pass by the storefront. Nearly everyone inside could see the bustle. The store consisted of two and a half stories, with an interior layout as follows. The upper story was made up of offices for the manager and the various bookkeepers; it also served as a storage area for a certain amount of stock. The lower story was the shop, with the commotion of a bevy of clerks making sales. The...

    • So Near, So Far
      (pp. 73-88)
      Bao Tianxiao

      Ling Zhuoru, a journalist in the editorial room of theTimes, called himself a nocturnal animal. He did all his work at night, usually arriving at the news office after it got dark and not starting for home until dawn.

      A free spirit, he was nonetheless dedicated to his job. Each day he would scrutinize the drafts of the articles one by one, deciding which to reject or print, which to bring out in bold or reduced type, which to put on the front or back pages. There was also the matter of subtitles below the headlines. Some were necessary...

  6. III. Gallantry

    • [III. Introduction]
      (pp. 89-92)

      If “saturday” stories as a whole were considered “old-style” in their heyday, those dealing with martial gallantry—wuxia—show us most clearly why. For, to a greater extent than all the others,wuxiastories follow the old formula of making the wildest fantasies seem credible by surrounding them with recognizable fact. The stories, including the three collected here, greatly exaggerate the capabilities of the martial arts, now displayed through cinematic magic in “kung fu” films: Combatants in a sword fight can leap at will to the top of a mast; a person can fly with the wind and transport people...

    • On the Road to Thistle Gate
      (pp. 93-108)
      Cheng Danlu

      A caravan of four or five mule wagons hurrying along on the road to Thistle Gate had just reached a desolate stretch. The round red sun was disappearing into the bowels of the western hills, where darkening woods dominated the landscape. The trees were lined up on either side of the travelers, as if to greet them and send them on their way. In the last wagon sat a young student, impatiently asking his driver whether they would reach the station on time.

      “We won’t make it,” the mule driver said after looking down the road a piece.

      “What are...

    • The Windmaster
      (pp. 109-124)
      Zhang Mingfei

      When Liang Mengxian of Pu City was about twenty, he accompanied a tea merchant to Xinjiang on business. He was gone for three years before the merchant notified Mengxian’s family by letter that he had run into a windstorm in the desert and disappeared. Inevitably, his mother and wife wept bitterly at the news, certain that he had died.

      Now the desert was nothing but dust and sand for who knows how many hundreds of miles. Not only was there no sign of human life, there was not even water or greenery. The road the merchants usually took traversed its...

    • From Marvelous Gallants, Chapter 40
      (pp. 125-142)
      Xiang Kairan

      Now, let me tell you about Zhu Zhenyue, who was originally a native of Blackbird Mountain in Changde. His father was Zhu Pei—Zhu Ruolin to his friends—a county magistrate in Shaanxi for over a decade. Born in Shaanxi, Zhu Zhenyue was doted on by his parents because two of his older brothers had died in infancy. By the time he was twelve, Zhu Zhenyue had a burgeoning reputation in his hometown for literary talent, having been personally tutored by his father. In his thirteenth year, when he accompanied his mother to receive incense at Retribution Monastery in East...

  7. IV. Crime

    • [IV. Introduction]
      (pp. 143-146)

      In the chinese tradition, stories of crime and detection are closely connected with those dealing with martial gallantry. Evidence of this is usually traced to the oral storyteller Shi Yukun (fl. 1851–1875) of Tianjin, who began by performing tales of the crime cases solved by the righteous Judge Bao referred to in “The Black Cat.” In 1594, such stories, which often venture into the supernatural, were written down and published in the popular collectionBao Gong An(The cases of Judge Bao),¹ referred to in the same story. But in telling his stories, Shi Yukun reportedly shifted focus from...

    • The Black Cat
      (pp. 147-158)
      Xiang Kairan

      No one who has read the crime-case stories of Judge Bao and Judge Shi will forget that the two collections contain an account of a sparrow playing plaintiff and another of a brown dog taking revenge.* Among the readers of such hogwash would be uneducated women and children intellectually incapable of discerning truth from falsehood. There would also be traditionalists who cling to their belief in karmic retribution and who, their doubts notwithstanding, lack the courage to question the veracity of what they read. All others would object to the stories as preposterous in the extreme. They might very well...

    • The Sunglasses Society
      (pp. 159-174)
      Sun Liaohong

      Now that I think of it, the Sunglasses Society had a rather ludicrous beginning. There were several jewel merchants who set aside every Saturday evening for a dinner party to cultivate mutual friendship. The participants took turns hosting. On one such occasion, one of them started bragging to his fellows that, as soon as he got hold of any gemstone, his unerring eyes could tell with absolute accuracy whether it was genuine or fake. Even among peers, he was unflinchingly self-confident, insisting that no eyesight could match his. One participant was unable to bear the boasting and started to dispute...

    • The Ghost in the Villa
      (pp. 175-190)
      Cheng Xiaoqing

      One afternoon in early spring, our former servant Shi Gui brought in a visitor. The man was past fifty, with a short, broad face. His nose was flat and his eyes large. He wore a light-gray silk brocade robe with small circular patterns and an inner lining. On his left ring finger was a diamond. Overall, he looked extremely well-heeled. He swaggered when he walked, very much in the manner of a so-called revered member of the merchant class. Only after the customary greetings did I learn that the man’s surname was Hua and his given name Bosun, and that...

  8. V. Satire

    • [V. Introduction]
      (pp. 191-194)

      It might be less than appropriate to characterize any of the “Saturday” stories, including the three here, as social satire. The problem does not lie with their social consciousness, which is amply evident. Rather, it lies with the very concept of satire, which in both China and the West has always consisted of (direct) morality presented through (indirect) wit.¹ Even though it is dated, the wittiness of a story like “Men’s Depravity Exposed” should be clear even to a reader at a great geographical and cultural distance from its original point of publication. The moral point it seems to be...

    • In the Pawnshop
      (pp. 195-204)
      Zhao Tiaokuang

      Manager Ma of the Beneficial Pawnshop was an old gentleman who had been there since he was a student in elementary school. He had gradually worked his way up to his present position of head manager, which had taken him over ten years. For more than another decade since then, he had been transacting business behind the main counter. In spite of his advancing age, he remained young in spirit, continuing to carry out his duties with great conscientiousness. He brought a cheerful disposition to his job. Seated on his high stool each day, he very much enjoyed watching the...

    • A Writer’s Tribulations
      (pp. 205-214)
      Fan Yanqiao

      Over the past ten years or so, the reputation of the writer Shakespeare East had truly risen like the sun. Those publishers of magazines and daily newspapers—the people with their ears open but their eyes shut, their purses filled but their sensibilities drained—had one after the other borne the pain of exchanging shiny silver dollars for his curiously assembled manuscripts. Typesetters would simply leave the three leaden characters of his name stuck together, since they were needed so often that taking them apart and then putting them back would have been wasted effort. He employed two secretaries at...

    • Men’s Depravity Exposed
      (pp. 215-228)
      Xu Zhuodai

      When the bell sounded at five in the afternoon, all of the 120 or 130 workers of the Nova Factory rushed out at once, some clutching little packages, others holding on to umbrellas. Women workers made up roughly a third of the total. Exiting with the men, their voices blended into the general din as they chattered and joked along the way. Even as the mixed crowd emerged more or less together, a short, plump female worker seemed to cower by herself to one side, like a wild goose flying out of formation, staying away from the rest of the...

  9. Afterword
    (pp. 229-244)

    The stories gathered here represent a type of fiction belonging to the “Mandarin Ducks and Butterflies School,” a largely pejorative label attached to writings which, beginning in the 1910s, achieved sustained popularity, spurred on by the development of modern journalism in Shanghai and other urban centers in China.¹ By the 1920s, when most of these stories were first published, the prominent establishment of the magazineThe Saturday(Libai liu), begun a decade earlier, had already added another designation to them. The Chinese scholar Fan Boqun, from whose collection many of the stories were taken, suggested in the early 1990s that...

  10. Publication Notes
    (pp. 245-247)
  11. About the Authors
    (pp. 248-252)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 253-254)