Mo Yan’s Folkhistorical Chronicle of NE Gaomi (1) : The (Real-life) Bandit-heroes of Red Sorghum Family

rEsd sorgh collage apr 9 2013

Header Illustrations: (upper right clockwise)
1. 江湖郎中的“祖传神方江湖郎中的“祖传神方
“mountebank” in marketplace, often a guerrilla spy (ditto for street martial arts entertainers and wedding/funeral “escorts”, monks and litter-bearers)
2. Chinese (Daoist) God of Intoxication, Dukang (+/- Bacchus). Sometimes claimed as the inventor of “alcohol”
3. Japanese truck-bearing bridge over 蛟龙河 Flood Dragon River: aka Sunjiakou Crossing 14-arch Bridge/Qingshakou (roadway)
built 1937-8
4. Japanese truck-bearing bridge over 蛟龙河 Flood Dragon River: aka Sunjiakou 14-arch Bridge, side view
5. Dukang (“wine god”, vendor’s advertisement)


Folk-history as Dream and Nightmare: Origin of the Red Sorghum Quintet

Mo Yan’s Nobel-crowned success – or impress – as a writer of metafiction (abstract or symbolic philosophical discourse embedded in subjective fictional narrative – my own term) – has moved critical interest away from his first success d’estime, Red Sorghum Family (Taiwan ed. 1988). A work which is unmistakably historically sequenced narrative, as is also its companion novel, Big Breasts and Wide Hips. (1996). Though the recurrent return to “NE Gaomi” (i.e. Dalan township) – reminiscent of Faulkneresque Yoknapatawpha County- creates and expands a fictional space about which more and more detail accumulates, the sense of intermittent superhumanity and magic embedded in the “NE Gaomi” chronicles drops away with the (clearly defined) mid-life coming-into- adulthood of the subject-narrator, Sima Jintong (GB 459, age “42” upon return to 76-8 Dalan), a place literally ploughed over for the construction of a hideous “new town” of ferroconcrete by typical “Deng” era predator capitalists. Though surreality and grotesqueness – what I shall call “graffiti” realism – persist across the divide (time-in-motion vs time-as-present), and the stageset remains Dalan (fictionalized “Northeast Gaomi County”), a major change in shape nevertheless occurs. Bloodline history simply ceases: the events first capturing attention, starting more or less in 1938 when the tides of guerrilla war first (literally) overflow the terrain, come to an abrupt halt with the 1993 (un-calendered) death of the writer/narrator’s mother, the super-stalwart Shangguan Lu, the novel’s unmistakable (and Christianity-converted) hero. We are at the very end left with a stage populated by two extra-maritally conceived stepbrothers, both fathered by a “Swedish” missionary-priest (Mallory). Leaving the door open to Deng Xiaoping-era capitalists to run wild and eradicate all still extant markers of the town itself.

2 thoughts on “Mo Yan’s Folkhistorical Chronicle of NE Gaomi (1) : The (Real-life) Bandit-heroes of Red Sorghum Family

  1. First off I want to say superb blog! I had a quick question in which I’d like to ask
    if you do not mind. I was interested to know how you
    center yourself and clear your head before writing. I’ve had a hard time clearing my thoughts in getting my thoughts out there.
    I truly do take pleasure in writing however it just seems like the first 10
    to 15 minutes are usually wasted simply just trying to figure out how to begin.
    Any ideas or tips? Cheers!

    • Dear Christena

      (I’ll also send this direct to your email address, just to make sure this is a two-way conversation).

      Thanks for your appreciation: I am flattered that you should infer from my blogprose that I can teach anyone anything about writing.

      I find (or don’t when I don’t) that what’s needed is a to find a way past the overnight negative. My day usually starts with dread:
      why/how did I get interested in this event or headline in the first place? You have to get past that, and it’s never automatic or easy, usually the first feeling is boredom or cowardice.

      My only suggestion:

      Try to re-express your initial stimulation in new image(s), not words. In fact as you probably notice, I start each “post” by creating a collage that goes with the post’s headline. Google search image is a wonderful tool, all you need is a word or two that comes from something current or some film or documentary or TV investigative reportage item that has caught your interest, like AQI or 2.5 micron particles or Beijing’s coal curbs. Yes, it can wind up in a stall, or even more self-doubt. But it also usually re-stimulates, if perhaps another day has to be surrendered.

      If you let a few days pass you’ll always find that the initial writing and thinking was quite good…

      Hope this helps

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