Books

Work plans for Chinese writers

JDM070517zhangyueran.jpg

Zhang Yueran, most recently the author of Vower (誓鸟), became the first post-80s author to be under contract to the Beijing Writers' Association. Reportedly, the terms of her contract require her to publish at least 120,000 characters a year. According to the China Youth Daily:

For the time being, she is "keeping secret" what she will work on during the contract period: "I will bring out something at the Beijing Writers' Association Year-End Convention."

At the same time, a total of twenty-nine authors, including Shi Tiesheng, Zhang Chengzhi, Bi Shumin, Ling Li, Qiu Huadong, Ning Ken, Han Xiaohui, Guo Xuebo, Yang Peng, Zhou Xiaofeng, and Wen Yajun, became contracted authors for the tenth session of the Beijing Writers' Association. They said that during the contract period, they would work with literary publishers October Literature and Arts Publishing House and Beijing Publishing House to bring out life-focused works reflecting current trends and that are both popular and artistic.

The Beijing Times reports that Zhang does not expect her new contract to make much difference day-to-day: "My change in position won't have any effect on my work; I'll still write like I wrote before."

Zhang's "work plan" brings to mind the "creative plans" of a number of other famous writers, as collected in Cheng Guangwei's Cultural Transition: "Lu, Guo, Mao, Ba, Lao, Cao" in China*:

...however, all sorts of "creative plans" and "creative missions" were sharply in opposition to the creative tendencies, styles, and habits that Ba Jin and Cao Yu had formed over time. Let us reproduce some bitterly funny yet utterly genuine material here:

March, 1956, the Writers' Association Creative Committee sent a letter whose contents were as follows: "Comrade Mao Dun: The creative plan for children's literature formulated last November by the Chinese Writers' Association stipulates that before June, 1956, you must write or translate one work of children's literature (or write one research paper on children's literature before the end of 1956). We do not know how you are coming along on this project. If you have finished, then please let us know in which publication you have published which pieces; if you have not finished, when do you plan to complete which pieces? And if you have any problems, please let us know that as well."

Reportedly, Mao Dun was at last infuriated by the scorn of this "system" toward "the individual"; in an outraged letter dripping with sarcasm, he replied:

Reply to the Creative Committee: Indeed, I am having difficult. Since April last year, I have had a major and a minor plan. The major plan was to write a novel, the minor plan was to write short stories and essays. The two were meant to proceed simultaneously (originally there was only the major plan, but later, in light of the fact that writing short pieces was mandatory and unavoidable, the minor plan was added). It has now been nearly one year, and upon inspection I unexpectedly found that neither the major nor the minor plan were carried out. The cause is not that I am lazy — rather, it is impromptu, miscellaneous tasks (these tasks include writing apart from the plan) that disrupted my plan. Every day I bend over my desk (reviewing official documents, reading books, writing, or attending meetings — it's all bending over a desk) for more than ten hours. Sundays I don't go out to the mountains or rivers and I never visit parks; only heaven knows how busy I am! These random tasks may be finished in three to five days, but might require two weeks to a month. This is where my difficulties lie. I have no way to overcome them myself; perhaps you have a way to help me overcome them? If you can help, I will be very grateful.*

Next we look at Lao She's and Cao Yu's "creative plans":

In summer, 1957, at the arrangement of the China Writers' Association, Association members submitted their personal creative plans....(Lao She) turned in a short-term writing plan for himself: "Write one play and adapt one Peking Opera or Kunqu every year; finish the novel Under the Red Banner in one or two years"....interestingly, the creative program that Cao Yu submitted involved the next decade, and the subject matter he wanted to express lay entirely in the realms of the main structure and fashions of the new society: "Write a play about the reform of a capitalist: '57, '58; a play about peasant life: '60-'62; write about university students or higher intellectuals: '63; write about the lives of workers: '64-'66; wish to write a historical play about Yue Fei and Du Fu." (Taken from the creative plan manuscripts of Chinese Writers' Association members in 1957)*

At present we cannot find Ba Jin's "creative plan," but judging from the above writers' varied states of mind, it's not hard to imagine his "behavior" at the time.


Notes

  1. 程光炜,《文化的转轨——“鲁郭芧巴老曹”在中国》,光明日报出版社,2004。
  2. Wei Tao and Chen Xiaoman. The Later Years of My Father Mao Dun. Shanghai Bookstore Publishing House, 1998, p132.
  3. Chen Tushou. People Are Sick, Does Heaven Know?. People's Literature Publishing House, 2000, p77.
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