Chinese Literary Icon Ba Jin and His "Family"
Ba Jin (巴金, penname of Li Yaotang or Li Feigan, born November 25, 1904) is a writer considered to be one of the most important and widely read amongst Chinese writers of the twentieth century. Taking his pseudonym from Russian anarchists Bakunin and Kropotkin, Ba Jin started composing his first works in the late 1920s.
Born in Chengdu, Sichuan, Li was born into a scholar-official family where his paternal grandfather ruled with an iron hand. In 1920 he enrolled into Chengdu Foreign Language Specialist School. Three years later, Li moved to Shanghai and then to Nanjing on the pretext of study to escape the feudalistic influence of his family. In 1927, he traveled to and studied in France, where he first used the pen-name Ba Jin and began composing, writing his first novel, Miewang (“Destruction”). On his return to Shanghai in 1928, Li continued writing and working on translations. During the next 10 years, Li acted as editors to several important publishing firms and periodicals, as well as composed the works which he is best known for – The Family (1933), The Love Trilogy Fog (1931), Rain (1933) and Lightning (1935), the novellas Autumn in Spring and A Dream of the Sea, the short story collection Mengya (“Germination”) and prose writings in Fuchou ("Vengeance") and Shen, Gui, Ren ("Gods, Ghosts and Men").
During the Sino-Japanese war, Li was actively involved in anti-Japanese propaganda, working on the publication Nahan (“Outcries”, later renamed Fenghuo, “Beacons”) with Mao Dun. In the latter stages of the war Li completed the Torrents Trilogy -- of which The Family was the first -- with Spring (1938) and Autumn (1940). Other works of post-war period, like the short novels A Garden of Repose (1944), Ward No 4 (1946) and Cold Nights (1947), contain some of his strongest writings.
During the Cultural Revolution, Li was heavily persecuted as a counter-revolutionary. He was rehabilitated in 1977, after which he was elected to many important national literary posts. The major work of his late years is probably the discursive writings in Zaxiang Lu, translated as "Random Thoughts", composed between 1978 and 1986.
Ba Jin’s works are heavily influenced by foreign writers, including Emile Zola, Ivan Turgenev and Anton Chekhov. Ba Jin has been suffering from Parkinson's Disease since the 1990s, an ailment which has now almost completely debilitated him.
Ba Jin Works: Family
Family (家) is a novel by Ba Jin about the life of a fictional upper-class family in the Chinese city of Chengdu in the 1930s. It was published in 1931. Together with two additional novels Ba Jin wrote in the period 1939-40, Spring and Autumn, it forms a trilogy, Turbulent Stream.
The subject matter of the novel is broadly autobiographical: "The first nineteen years of Pa Jin's life were spent, with a short interruption, in the large family mansion in Chengtu, a household consisting of fifty Li family members and their forty-five servants, ruled autocratically by his grandfather... this family, which he called 'a despotic kingdom.'"
Ba Jin said "I myself am not in the novel," though he expressed affection for one of the protagonists, Chueh-hui. The novel focuses on three brothers: Chueh-hui (the youngest), Chueh-min, and Chueh-hsin (the eldest).
A theme in the novel is the separation imposed by physical and social structures: the walls and gates of mansions, the "masks" worn by their inhabitants, the (false) surface appearance of peace and affection.
"Contradition" is a related theme.
The author explores the theme of generational conflict and contradiction: "Cheh-hui gazed at his grandfather... It seemed to him that the person lying in the cane reclining chair was not his grandfather but the representative of an entire generation. He knew that the old man and he -- the representative of the grandson's generation -- could never see eye to eye".
The author also identifies a conflict between external structures (physical and social) and self: "You can lock up a person physically, but you cannot imprison his heart."
An important theme is the challenges faced by women, whether the rich Chin, who wants to be allowed to attend school, or the servant Ming-feng, who is essentially a slave in the mansion.
English Translations of Family
Family was published by Foreign Languages Press (Beijing) in an English translation by Sidney Shapiro in 1958.
Anchor Books (NY) published an edition based on the Sidney Shapiro translation in 1972 under the English title Rickshaw Boy ("by Lau Shaw").