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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story


China has a new breed of writers.
They believe in nothing and mock everything

By Alison Dakota Gee
and Anne Naham / Beijing

THE ROLE OF THE arts in China is clearly enough defined. They are a tool for building society, reinforcing the leadership of the Communist Party and strengthening socialist ideals. Everybody understands that -- apart, apparently, from Wang Shuo and fellow members of what some call the Punk Lit. group.

Wang refuses to play by the old rules -- or by any rules at all, apart from his own. The 37-year-old writer describes himself as a pize, a near-untranslatable term that is halfway between hooligan and Beat-generation poet, without the random violence of the former or the philosophical pretensions of the latter. "I go my own way," he explains.

With him -- or, more precisely, shambling behind him -- is a growing school of alienated young writers who have grown tired of the sloganeering of the Communist Party and dismissive of the grasping, riches-before-all-else attitude that is pushing the party aside. It is tempting to call Wang an Angry Young Man, except that he isn't angry at all. He laughs a lot more than he frowns, mostly at the folly of those he thinks take themselves too seriously.

Unsurprisingly, the pize are not the darlings of the establishment. Wang and his fellow-thinkers are under attack from politicians and intellectuals on the left and right. They are accused of spreading cynicism and encouraging their readers to indulge in drinking, gambling, swearing and casual sex. For the authorities, they are spiritual pollutants.

Wang feigns indifference to all this, even though he is finding it increasingly difficult to get his work published. Like most non-conformists in China, his situation is precarious -- especially in light of the "Talk Politics" movement launched last September by President Jiang Zemin. This back-to-basics movement is designed to buttress the Communist Party's influence in a changing society. The pize, with their scorn for all values, seem disinclined to discuss politics or anything else that has a serious tinge to it.

China's democracy movement --and, in particular, the Tiananmen Square students of 1989 -- is a prime target of their ridicule. "The students thought they would change China and the world just like that, overnight," Wang scoffs. "Some of them were my friends till they started to have those funny ideas. See what a mess they made. They were intellectuals -- that's the problem. In China, intellectuals are always a cause of trouble."

Wang began writing novels, screenplays and teleplays in 1978, reaching a wide audience throughout China. But it was in 1993, when director Jiang Wen transformed his novel In the Heat of the Sun into a film that attracted international interest, that the author rose to renown. The movie chronicles Wang's life during the Cultural Revolution -- a tumultuous, blood-stained chapter in China's history that he made look like a rollicking romp.

In the Heat of the Sun follows a group of teenagers who come of age during the Revolution. It explores their dreams and their growing understanding of love and eroticism. The movie was stalled in the censors' office and was not released in China for 13 months, and then only after a final cut. But it still received plenty of heat from local critics, who said it portrayed the Cultural Revolution far too lightly. The period, they argued, is too painful a memory to serve as the backdrop for a movie about rowdy adolescents.

Wang is unapologetic: "My parents and teachers were gone," he says, "so I could do whatever I wanted. It was the freeest period of my life. It's a pity that people died, but I was busy with my own life. In the Heat of the Sun is about me and my friends. I had lots of fun. Should I lie about it?"

The Punk Lit. group are not completely adrift without friends. Wang Meng, a former culture minister, staunchly defends their work. "It's a matter of freedom of expression," he says. "I personally don't like all their books, but I still appreciate their style of writing. Reading their books is like reading their thoughts. They are trying to reflect what they feel towards modern life."

Still, Wang has decided to give up books for a while. "I want to concentrate on becoming a B-film director," he says. "I have directed a couple and it's really fun. It's easy compared with writing." But not necessarily subject to less scrutiny.

This edition's table of contents | Asiaweek home



U.S. secretary of state says China should be 'tolerant'

Philippine government denies Estrada's claim to presidency

Faith, madness, magic mix at sacred Hindu festival

Land mine explosion kills 11 Sri Lankan soldiers

Japan claims StarLink found in U.S. corn sample

Thai party announces first coalition partner


COVER: President Joseph Estrada gives in to the chanting crowds on the streets of Manila and agrees to make room for his Vice President

THAILAND: Twin teenage warriors turn themselves in to Bangkok officials

CHINA: Despite official vilification, hip Chinese dig Lamaist culture

PHOTO ESSAY: Estrada Calls Snap Election

WEB-ONLY INTERVIEW: Jimmy Lai on feeling lucky -- and why he's committed to the island state


COVER: The DoCoMo generation - Japan's leading mobile phone company goes global

Bandwidth Boom: Racing to wire - how underseas cable systems may yet fall short

TAIWAN: Party intrigues add to Chen Shui-bian's woes

JAPAN: Japan's ruling party crushes a rebel at a cost

SINGAPORE: Singaporeans need to have more babies. But success breeds selfishness

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