We­icheng: Fortress Be­sieged

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS - Trans­lated by Zhu Jiant­ing Edited by David Ball

Writ­ten by scholar Qian Zhong­shu in 1947, Fortress Be­sieged is a Chi­nese novel praised for its satire of in­tel­lec­tu­als at the time. With its later se­quels writ­ten by other writ­ers, the book con­tin­ues to de­light read­ers to this day.

Fortress Be­sieged is a Chi­nese satiric novel writ­ten by the renowned scholar Qian Zhong­shu (1910– 1998). Hon­oured as a “new The Schol­ars ”in the Chi­nese lit­er­ary world, his novel took aim at in­tel­lec­tual cir­cles and es­tab­lished Qian’s rep­u­ta­tion as a mas­ter of mod­ern Chi­nese lit­er­a­ture.

The most fa­mous quo­ta­tion from the novel is: “Mar­riage is like a fortress be­sieged: those who are out­side want to get in, and those who are in­side want to get out.” The book was pub­lished for the first time in 1947 by the Chen­guang Pub­lish­ing Com­pany.

Mas­ter­piece of Satire

Qian Zhong­shu was born in Wuxi, Jiangsu prov­ince in 1910. Ini­tially named Yangx­ian, his cour­tesy name was Mo­cun and he used the pen name Zhong­shu­jun. Qian was greatly in­flu­enced by his fa­ther Qian Jibo, a pres­ti­gious mas­ter of tra­di­tional Chi­nese cul­ture. Hav­ing gained a sound foun­da­tion in Chi­nese cul­ture dur­ing his child­hood, he later at­tend­ing Suzhou Taowu High School and Wuxi Furen High School. In 1946, Qian com­pleted the full-length novel Fortress Be­sieged which was pub­lished in three edi­tions over two years. Af­ter the found­ing of the Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of China in 1949, he worked as a pro­fes­sor in the For­eign Lan­guage Depart­ment of Ts­inghua

Uni­ver­sity and a re­search fel­low at the Lit­er­a­ture In­sti­tute in Pek­ing Uni­ver­sity, mainly en­gaged in trans­la­tion and the re­search of Chi­nese lit­er­a­ture.

His aca­demic pub­li­ca­tions in­clude Notes on Se­lected Song Po­ems, Four Old Es­says and Lim­ited Views: Es­says on Ideas and Let­ters, and in the 1950s, he was a mem­ber of the trans­la­tion group for the Se­lected Works of Mao Ze­dong.

In his later years, Qian worked in the Chi­nese Academy of So­cial Sciences. He made many achieve­ments in tra­di­tional Chi­nese cul­ture and cul­tural crit­i­cism, with his ad­mir­ers even coin­ing the word “Qianol­ogy” to re­fer to the study of him and his work.

Qian be­gan writ­ing Fortress Be­sieged, his only full-length novel, in 1944 and fin­ished it in 1946. The novel was first se­ri­alised in the Shang­hai lit­er­ary monthly The Re­nais­sance in a se­ries of 10 is­sues from Feb­ru­ary 1946 to Jan­uary 1947. The work was the prod­uct of an ac­cu­mu­la­tion of the au­thor’s em­bar­rass­ing life ex­pe­ri­ences. Qian’s wife Yang Jiang (1911–2016) com­mented on the book, say­ing: “He col­lects ma­te­ri­als from the times, places and so­cial classes that he’s fa­mil­iar with. How­ever, the char­ac­ters and set­tings are com­pletely fic­ti­tious. Although sev­eral char­ac­ters mir­ror those in re­al­ity, the story is to­tally imag­i­nary. Sev­eral scenes con­tain some slight truths, but the char­ac­ters are all made up.”

“In­stead of a sin­gle sto­ry­line, the novel is made up of small scenes. In the novel, Qian reached his cul­mi­na­tion in dic­tion. So what makes Fortress Be­sieged dif­fer­ent from or­di­nary nov­els is that read­ers should fo­cus not only on the scenes but also the way the char­ac­ters speak. The witty turn- of­phrase is the most suc­cess­ful el­e­ment and most wor­thy of ap­pre­ci­a­tion in the novel. Sym­bol­ism comes from the for­eign wis­dom quoted in the dia­logue be­tween the char­ac­ters: ‘Mar­riage is like a gilded bird­cage: the birds out­side de­spair to get in and those in­side de­spair to get out. So mar­riage and di­vorce are never- end­ing.’ And, ‘France has an­other say­ing, not about a cage, but about a be­sieged fortress, those on the out­side want to get in, and those on the in­side want to get out.’ This is the ori­gin of the novel’s ti­tle. In its pref­ace, Qian wrote, ‘In this book I in­tended to write about a cer­tain seg­ment of so­ci­ety and a cer­tain kind of peo­ple in mod­ern China. When writ­ing about them, I didn’t for­get that they are hu­man be­ings, just hu­man be­ings who are ba­si­cally hair­less, two­legged an­i­mals.’”

In 1990, Huang Shuqin di­rected the 10-episode TV se­ries Fortress Be­sieged with the pro­tag­o­nist Fang Hongjian played by Chen Daom­ing. Yang Jiang pref­aced the TV se­ries by say­ing: “The main idea of Fortress Be­sieged is that those in­side all want to get out, while those out­side want to get in. Most de­sires in life are gen­er­ally the same, whether it’s a mar­riage or a job.” In the novel, this idea is a fre­quently re­cur­ring theme. It tells peo­ple that life is full of “be­sieged fortresses,” cease­less mar­riages and di­vorces. end­less con­fu­sions and em­bar­rass­ments.

Later, a 32-episode ra­dio se­ries, also named Fortress Be­sieged, was re­leased. With the wide­spread suc­cess of the TV se­ries, the work was seen by more peo­ple. In 1992, the writer Lu Zhaom­ing au­thored Af­ter Fortress Be­sieged, a se­quel that con­tin­ued the tragic aura of the orig­i­nal and was pub­lished by Chun­feng Lit­er­a­ture Pub­lish­ing House. In 1993, the writer Wei Ren con­tin­ued on from Af­ter Fortress Be­sieged and cre­ated Fortress Be­sieged Fi­nale, pub­lished by Ru­ral Read­ings Pub­lish­ing House. The se­quels, de­spite be­ing in­com­pa­ra­ble with the orig­i­nal, each left their marks on the study of Fortress Be­sieged.

Life as a Fortress

In the novel, Fang Hongjian, a “PHD grad­u­ate from Car­leton Uni­ver­sity” be­comes ro­man­ti­cally en­tan­gled with a Miss Bao on a French liner sail­ing back to China, how­ever she deserts him as soon as the ship ar­rives. Fang had lived an idle life in Europe, wast­ing away four years while he should have been study­ing. But un­der pres­sure from his fa­ther and fa­ther-in-law to re­turn with his de­gree, he buys a fake PHD cer­tifi­cate from a char­la­tan. “The diploma seemed would func­tion the same as Adam and Eve’s figleaf. It could hide a per­son’s shame and wrap up his dis­grace. This tiny square of pa­per could cover his shal­low­ness, ig­no­rance, and stu­pid­ity.” Con­trary to Fang’s ex­pec­ta­tions, his fa­ther-in-law pub­li­cises his “grad­u­a­tion photo” and ex­pe­ri­ences study­ing in Europe in the news­pa­per. Af­ter dis­em­bark­ing and read­ing the news­pa­per, Fang feels a wave of shame wash over him.

Fang’s fi­ancée had passed away with­out ever hav­ing seen him. As her fa­ther helped Fang pay for his over­seas study, Fang vis­its him be­fore then go­ing to his home­town to see his par­ents. On his ar­rival, re­porters swarm his home, pho­tograph­ing him in his western-style suit and re­fer­ring to him as a celebrity in the county. Although many match­mak­ers come to his home, Fang does not like the ru­ral girls in his home­town. So, af­ter the Bat­tle of Shang­hai, dur­ing which the whole coun­try de­scends into tur­moil, Fang goes to Shang­hai to work in his fa­ther-in-law’s bank.

Fang goes to see Su Wen­wan, a girl who stud­ied a PHD and whom he met on the liner back to China. At Su’s home, he be­comes ac­quainted with her cousin

Miss Tang, who dreams of pure love and in­sists of her fu­ture hus­band that “I should oc­cupy all his life. Be­fore meet­ing me, he has no past and is wait­ing for me like a piece of blank pa­per.” Fang falls in love with Tang at first sight. How­ever, Su has loved Fang all along. Fang wor­ries about hurt­ing Su’s feel­ings and can­not refuse her cruel-heart­edly, even though he does not love her. He then de­cides to have din­ner with Tang, but in or­der to dis­guise his in­ten­tions, he also in­vites Su. How­ever, Su turns un­pleas­ant when she dis­cov­ers her cousin is also in­vited. As such, Su calls Fang to say she is sick and would not at­tend. Su hoped that Fang would can­cel the date be­cause of her ill­ness, but un­ex­pect­edly Fang is only con­cerned about whether Tang will be present. Su be­comes jeal­ous of Tang and calls her to tell her to refuse the date. How­ever, in a rage, Tang keeps the ap­point­ment, be­liev­ing that she would not fall in love with Fang.

Su de­lib­er­ately in­tro­duces her ad­mirer Zhao Xin­mei to Fang. How­ever, Fang sees through Su’s trick and only be­comes more be­sot­ted by Tang. In de­spair, Su starts to try and sab­o­tage Tang and Fang’s re­la­tion­ship. Su em­bel­lishes Fang’s af­fair with Miss Bao on the liner and his pre­vi­ous mar­riage. Tang then an­grily re­bukes Fang with a bro­ken heart. With noth­ing to say, Fang has to leave silently, his love dy­ing in his heart. Su then mar­ries a poet by the name of Cao Yuan­lang in­stead of Zhao Xin­mei. Both spurned, Zhao and Fang be­come good friends.

Later, Fang’s mother-in-law changes her at­ti­tude to Fang and claims that he was re­spon­si­ble for her daugh­ter’s death. In a fit of pique, Fang quits his job at the bank and teams up with Zhao Xin­mei to go teach at San­lyu Uni­ver­sity. Their com­pan­ions in­clude Mr. Li Meit­ing, who ex­pects to be made head of the Chi­nese Depart­ment, and a re­cent grad­u­ate called Miss Sun Rou­jia who has had a re­la­tion­ship with Zhao. Li car­ried sev­eral cases which Fang later dis­cov­ers to con­tain smug­gled goods. Miss Sun mean­while, seems to be a gen­tle and con­sid­er­ate girl.

Zhao warns Fang not to fall in love again. How­ever, Fang has not yet re­cov­ered from his for­mer dis­ap­point­ment and shows a lot of care to the lonely Sun. Zhao jokes to him that his care has sowed the seeds of love. Zhao then warns Fang that Sun is not an or­di­nary girl, but a schem­ing one.

Be­yond what any of the group had ex­pected, San­lyu Uni­ver­sity turns out to be a hot­bed of cheat­ing and in­trigue, and Fang be­comes deeply dis­ap­pointed upon his ar­rival. Li Meit­ing’s tar­geted po­si­tion as head of the Chi­nese Depart­ment is taken by Wang Chuhou backed by po­lit­i­cal force and Fang is also de­prived of his pro­fes­sor­ship. Fang does not want to cheat the uni­ver­sity, so he does not in­clude his PHD ed­u­ca­tion on his CV. Han Xueyu, head of the His­tory Depart­ment and the most pow­er­ful per­son at the uni­ver­sity, claims to the uni­ver­sity dean that he has had work pub­lished in for­eign aca­demic pe­ri­od­i­cals. The ar­rival of Fang threat­ens Han’s po­si­tion since Han also bought his de­gree from “Car­leton Uni­ver­sity,” just like Fang.

Zhao Xin­mei de­cides he can­not stay any longer in San­lyu Uni­ver­sity and so he re­signs and goes to Hong Kong. Fang Hongjian also hates the en­vi­ron­ment at the uni­ver­sity and de­cides to quit. But, in the fol­low­ing semester, Fang is not even hired by the school. Sun Rou­jia turns out to in­deed be a schem­ing girl. She knows that Fang would care for her and so comes up with a way to get Fang to pro­pose to her. Fang does not re­alise Sun’s trap and so gets en­gaged with her. The two of them then leave San­lyu Uni­ver­sity since Fang was not re-hired. Be­fore leav­ing for Shang­hai, the cou­ple go to Hong Kong to see Zhao Xin­mei. Sun knew Zhao spoke ill of her, and so hin­ders the com­mu­ni­ca­tions be­tween Fang and Zhao. Con­tra­dic­tions be­tween the cou­ple mount and Fang is left feel­ing rather sad.

Back in Shang­hai, the cou­ple com­plain about each other’s fam­i­lies be­cause of the dishar­mony be­tween them. Fang gets a job in a news­pa­per press, but his salary is only half of his wife’s. He then de­cides to take a job in Chongqing upon Zhao Xin­mei’s in­vi­ta­tion. Sun asks her aunt to find her

hus­band a high-pay­ing job, but in­stead of show­ing grat­i­tude, Fang feels that Sun and her aunt are look­ing down on him. He then beats Sun, who leaves home in a rage...

Sim­ile and Satire

Fang re­turns to his chilly home ab­sent­mind­edly. Sud­denly, a sim­ile Su Wen­wan told him comes into his mind: “love is like a be­sieged fortress: those out­side de­spair to get in and those within de­spair to get out.” Fang falls into a deep med­i­ta­tion: Life is also like a fortress. How many such fortresses had he been in? If he had mar­ried Tang and won her love, would that also be a fortress that he wanted to get out of?

Fang sighed about the na­ture of mar­riage and life. He had been anx­ious to get out of his mar­riage, but would only have to en­ter an­other one. Such a fortress of em­bar­rass­ment ex­isted in the whole of life, and as Fang said, “I have such feel­ings to­wards ev­ery­thing in life.” Life seemed to de­lib­er­ately be fight­ing against him: he did not want a mar­riage but his fa­ther ar­ranged a wife for him which brought him the op­por­tu­nity to study abroad; he did not want a de­gree but he had to buy a fake diploma to sat­isfy his fam­ily; he did not love his ad­mirer Su Wen­wan; a mis­un­der­stand­ing be­tween him and Tang led to them break­ing up; and he wor­ried about fall­ing in love with Sun Rou­jia but fi­nally they tied the knot.

In the novel, Qian Zhong­shu de­scribed Chi­nese so­ci­ety dur­ing the War of Re­sis­tance against Ja­panese Ag­gres­sion through Fang Hongjian’s life and emo­tional ex­pe­ri­ences. By means of his witty hu­mour and soft satire, Qian por­trayed a group of in­tel­lec­tu­als, an­a­lysed their per­son­al­i­ties and weak­nesses, dis­closed their spir­i­tual predica­ments, satirised the then-xeno­cen­tric phe­nom­ena in so­cial and cul­tural cir­cles and gave sev­eral philo­soph­i­cal re­flec­tions on life. De­spite hav­ing been ed­u­cated abroad and ed­i­fied by western cul­ture, the in­tel­lec­tu­als in the novel lacked the courage to strug­gle against tra­di­tional forces and thoughts. Even the hero Fang Hongjian, the cold beauty Su Wen­wan, the sor­did aca­demic cheat Li Meit­ing and the gen­tle and schem­ing Sun Rou­jia, all failed to man­age their own lives.

Fang Hongjian, a clas­sic char­ac­ter in Fortress Be­sieged, gets his name from a line in the Chi­nese clas­sic The Book of Changes. In his book Lim­ited Views: Es­says on Ideas and Let­ters, Qian ex­plained that “Hongjian” meant “a fly­ing bird which never finds a place to rest.” In Fortress Be­sieged, Fang was just such a bird, sym­bol­is­ing a group of spir­i­tual wan­der­ers ea­ger to es­cape a fortress but con­tin­u­ously find­ing them­selves in­side an­other. Fang’s life could be sum­marised with the word “wan­der­ing” —he was kind but weak, clever but in­com­pe­tent, hon­est but im­prac­ti­cal, eru­dite but soft­headed and spent his life wan­der­ing from one fortress to an­other.

Fortress Be­sieged is filled with ex­quis­ite sim­i­les, Chi­nese and for­eign al­lu­sions as well as strik­ing hu­mour and satire. In Four Old Es­says, Qian pro­posed the idea that “sim­i­les are the root of lit­er­ary lan­guage.” His so­phis­ti­cated ap­pli­ca­tion of sim­i­les along with his su­pe­rior imag­i­na­tion en­abled him to cre­ate sev­eral mem­o­rable sim­i­les in the novel. Fortress Be­sieged also fea­tures de­scrip­tions of typ­i­cal and re­al­is­tic per­son­al­i­ties, vivid psy­cho­log­i­cal de­scrip­tions and hu­mor­ous ex­pres­sions, all of which ben­e­fit­ted from Qian’s in­ven­tive ap­pli­ca­tion of sim­ile. Fang’s “glo­ri­ous re­turn to his home­town” rocked the tiny county: the lo­cal news­pa­per printed a high-pro­file re­port on him and he was in­vited by his old school to present an aca­demic re­port. In his speech, Fang said that only opium and syphilis had lasted in Chi­nese so­ci­ety from the last sev­eral hun­dred years of over­seas com­mu­ni­ca­tion. On hear­ing this, “the record­ing-sec­re­tary’s face flushed crim­son, and her pen stopped, as if by hear­ing Fang Hongjian’s last re­mark her vir­gin ears had lost their chastity in front of the au­di­ence.” The de­scrip­tion is con­sis­tent with Qian’s views that lit­er­ary works should “con­vey the char­ac­ters’ veiled psy­chol­ogy in a con­cealed man­ner,” as he wrote in his Pref­ace to Notes on Se­lected Song Po­ems. Qian had a ge­nius for grasp­ing satir­i­cal de­tails. Chu Shen­ming, a near­sighted char­ac­ter in the novel claims to be un­in­ter­ested in girls, ex­plain­ing that the rea­son he did not buy new glasses was be­cause he hated to see girls’ faces clearly. Chu also claimed that he had only hu­man­ity with­out any beastly qual­i­ties. But, when talk­ing with Su Wen­wan, he be­came so ex­cit­ing that his “pince-nez splashed into the milk cup.” This vivid de­tail clearly showed up Chu for the hyp­ocrite he was.

The fa­mous an­ces­tor clock men­tioned at the end of the novel was a wed­ding present from Fang’s fa­ther and was an “ac­cu­rate” clock that was “only” seven min­utes slow every hour. The clock is a satire on and an el­egy to life—one which is more pow­er­ful than any words or ex­pres­sions.

Mar­riage is a fortress be­sieged, as are jobs and life. In Fang’s eyes, life it­self is a huge in­vis­i­ble fortress filled with end­less pres­sures and re­stric­tions which peo­ple can never es­cape. Over the past 70 years, Fortress Be­sieged has be­come a renowned clas­sic. Qian de­scribed peo­ple’s help­less­ness when faced by this fortress in a tran­scen­den­tal and jok­ing man­ner, and left his read­ers to con­sider life it­self.

A poster for the TV se­ries Fortress Be­sieged (1990)

Ac­tor Chen Daom­ing (Fang Hongjian) and ac­tress Lyu Lip­ing (Sun Rou­jia)

Ac­tors Ge You (sec­ond from the left) and Ying Ruocheng (far right) in Fortress Be­sieged

Qian Zhong­shu, au­thor of Fortress Be­sieged

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