Collection of short stories from contemporary China
Love Must Not Be Forgotten, by Zhang Lie. San Francisco and Beijing, China: China Books and Periodicals Inc. 207 pp. $16.95. No fuzziness in these stories: their depiction of the plight of the educated under Chinese Communism is razor sharp.
Judging from these seven stories, Zhang Lie of the People's Republic of China can be compared to Lao Shih, internationally famed for his ``Rickshaw Boy'' written in the '40s. The seven translators of these stories have used American idioms, and while this does not help to preserve the Chinese ``flavor'' of the work, it does ensure that the stories speak eloquently to most anglophones.
The title tale, ``Love Should Not Be Forgotten'' is about the enduring and ill-fated love of a talented and sensitive woman for a somewhat elder and highly placed bureaucrat. The bureaucrat was murdered, doubtless for his fundamental liberalism, during the Cultural Revolution. At that time there were many such murders, as well as suicides among the higher intelligentsia and progressively-minded bureaucrats.
Engendered by their great mutual admiration and deep respect, would this grand emotion have survived had they been free to live together under the very great difficulties caused by the intrusive characteristics of the ``new society''?
Lie is clearly a brave feminist in the socially traditionalist China. Several of her stories illustrate how the male-chauvinist baggage of the ancient regime is very far from eliminated under the system, which nevertheless makes of every well-educated and intelligent woman some kind of party professional. She also writes with clarity and compassion of her male characters' frustrations -- and frequent debasement -- under the stringencies of government fiat and surveillance.
In ``An Unfinished Record,'' we have a subtle example of how a cultivated and useful life's waste and a heart's emptiness results from frustration, loneliness, and neglect. A very dedicated elderly historian, nevertheless virtually abandoned except for his interesting old cat, correctly anticipates his imminent death and prepares even his ancient, miserable dwelling for it.
Yet with an upsurge of youthful feeling and strength, he falls in love with a young woman's beauty and her surpassingly kind and delightful personality. He finds a joyful consummation of that genuine first happiness as he observes his idol's fulfillment in her apparently ideal love and her marriage to a young man.
The author explores for us the professor's atypical humanistic philosophy and his understanding of human emotion, forging the foundations for the wonderful experience which comes just before his death. It is an absorbing yarn, having its roots in the often highly very insensitive society.
The last story is principally about the day-to-day hardships and discouragements under Chinese bureaucracy, producing evocative types of injustice among women competing within the framework of the rigid rules of the game, as well as some of the great chicanery among many men.
As a whole, ``Love Must Not Be Forgotten'' is both imaginative and informative, well worth a second and even third reading.