Xue Yi­wei’s short sto­ries of Shen­zhen out in English

China Daily (USA) - - LIFE - By ZHU YUAN zhuyuan@chi­nadaily.com.cn

For Mon­treal-based writer Xue Yi­wei, the pub­li­ca­tion of the English ver­sion of his col­lec­tion of short sto­ries in Chi­nese is a re­mark­able event.

It is the first of a kind in Canada where he has lived for nearly two decades, and all nine sto­ries in the book are about a city in his home coun­try China. With a his­tory of more than three decades, the city in his book de­vel­oped out of a small fish­ing vil­lage as an epit­ome of China’s re­form and open­ing-up since the 1970s.

Shen­zhen, China’s first spe­cial eco­nomic zone in the south, saw the ini­tial wave of re­forms and paved the way for mas­sive de­vel­op­ment in the rest of the coun­try.

For Xue, it is a place where many of his short sto­ries are set. The ti­tle of the col­lec­tion, Shen­zhen­ers, may re­mind read­ers of the mas­ter­piece Dublin­ers by James Joyce.

But sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween the two books don’t end there. Dublin­ers is about peo­ple’s dis­il­lu­sion­ment and recog­ni­tion of fail­ure and anx­i­ety, while Shen­zhen­ers tells about how some res­i­dents of Shen­zhen, most of whom are mi­grants, feel they are es­tranged from the city even af­ter hav­ing worked there for years.

In Xue’s own words, their vul­ner­a­bil­ity forms the ba­sis of the sto­ries. Most peo­ple in China tend to turn a blind eye to this as­pect of city life when it comes to talk­ing of the ur­ban boom.

What is pe­cu­liar about the sto­ries is the fact that the name of Shen­zhen does not ap­pear even once in all of them, and not even the name of a street or any­thing that can re­mind read­ers of the city. By telling read­ers how the dwellers feel about life there and about their own ex­pe­ri­ences, Xue presents read­ers with an in­vis­i­ble city.

“What I want to de­scribe is not the look of this city, rather the in­ner world of some small pota­toes who are try­ing to mak­ing a de­cent liv­ing there,” Xue said dur­ing a re­cent trip to Bei­jing.

He says that he cares about how peo­ple feel about the world around them rather than how the world looks, and about marginal­ized peo­ple rather than celebri­ties. Be­ing con­cerned about how the disadvantaged feel is what a nov­el­ist is sup­posed to care about, he says.

Ex­cept for the story Taxi Driver, the rest were writ­ten in Mon­treal, which is thou­sands of miles away from Shen­zhen. But the long dis­tance could not sever Xue’s psy­cho­log­i­cal con­nec­tion with Shen­zhen — the in­spi­ra­tion for his works. The dis­tance gave him enough room to put into per­spec­tive the voices of peo­ple that have stayed in his mind for long.

The col­lec­tion’s pub­lisher Linda Leith says: “What I love most about Shen­zhen­ers is its com­pas­sion­ate view of the peo­ple and the ac­cess it pro­vides its read­ers into their hearts and minds. These are peo­ple iden­ti­fied sim­ply — they’re re­ferred to not by name but as the coun­try girl, for ex­am­ple, the physics teacher, the big sis­ter and the lit­tle sis­ter.

“This dis­tances us from them just a lit­tle, just enough for us to be able see them whole while al­low­ing us to feel for them in their tri­als, their loves and their sor­rows, as we feel for the in­di­vid­u­als we know best in our own daily lives. ”

This is per­haps be­cause their names are not im­por­tant, and their so­cial sta­tus or their re­la­tions with the peo­ple around them are what makes a dif­fer­ence. The im­pli­ca­tion may also be that they are noth­ing as “small pota­toes” when it comes to what hap­pens in this city of mile­stone im­por­tance to the re­form process.

Yet, the fact is that Shen­zhen would not be what it is to­day with­out the con­tri­bu­tion of such mi­grants. The irony that they have no names but are all called “Shen­zhen­ers” might be what Xue wants his read­ers to re­al­ize at the end of the col­lec­tion of his short sto­ries.

QI QI / FOR CHINA DAILY

Xue Yi­wei sets many of his sto­ries in Shen­zhen, in Guang­dong prov­ince.

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