In Memoriam: Yang Jiang

Credit: Caixin

The renowned Chinese writer Yang Jiang passed away on Wednesday, May 25 in Beijing at age 104. In 1984, University of Washington Press published her account of life during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76),  Six Chapters from My Life ‘Downunder’ (Ganxiao liuji), translated by Howard Goldblatt, who is known for his translations of works by major Chinese novelists, including Nobel Prize-winner Mo Yan. Yang’s New York Times obituary notes that “Goldblatt called [Six Chapters] ‘deeply personal and broadly representative of the “mundane” lives of intellectuals during that time’ — in contrast . . . to the tales of violence and victimization often found in other Cultural Revolution-era memoirs.”

The book brought literary fame to Yang, who was 70 when it was published in Chinese. Judith Shapiro reviewed Goldblatt’s translation of the memoir in the New York Times Book Review:

In richness, moral urgency, and drama, there can be few events of history with greater literary potential than the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Yang Jiang’s “Six Chapters from My Life ‘Downunder,’ ” her slender account of being sent ‘down’ for two years to a re-education school in the countryside, is one of the few memoirs of the period and all the more precious for that. . . . The book was published in China, if only briefly, because Yang Jiang focused on mundane activities. But her avoidance of obviously sensitive subjects in no way diminishes the work’s impact as a commentary on the Cultural Revolution. Many of her major themes have an allegorical quality, and many of her gently stated ironies are powerful indictments of Cultural Revolution policies. . . . In a brilliant inversion of the political lessons of the day, she finds that through collective labor directed by arrogant supervisors, toadies and politically correct spies, “I grew closer to grasping the meaning of ‘class sympathies.’ ”. . . . Yang Jiang’s is a memoir marked by the dignity, absence of recrimination, deep love of country and fatalism typical of her generation.

University of Washington Press also published Goldblatt’s translation of Market Street by Xiao Hong. Goldblatt remarked to us on the pairing of Six Chapters and Market Street: “Of interest to me is that both were written by women born in the same year (1911, the year of the revolution that brought down the monarchy). One, Xiao Hong, died at 30; the other, Yang Jiang, lived to be 104! Both wrote powerful memoirs with neither bombast nor rancor.”

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