The Contemporary Life in Xijing, An Ancient Chinese City
In 1993 China was hit with an “event that caused a great literary and publishing earthquake… ” The Abandoned Capital hit bookstores in late July of 1993. This novel is Jia Pingwa”s graphic and sexual explicit insight on the contemporary life in Xijing, an ancient Chinese city. The novel never indicates time references but it is understood by readers that it is right after the Cultural Revolution. Jia is a well-known novelist that was famous for writing “pure literature. ” So it was to everyone”s amazement that Jia wrote a novel that was so pornographic.
The novel is about a middle-aged writer that engages in sexual immorality, deceit, and corruption. Many critics say it”s autobiographical but Jia denies all accusations. The Abandoned Capital was written in a way that Chinese readers have never seen before. During the Cultural Revolution self-indulgence was looked down upon, thus so was sexuality. The result of this was the ignorance of sexuality for the Chinese for years to come. To some, the sixty detailed sex-scenes in the novel were the first time they encountered sex.
Jia, a peasant from the ancient capital of Xian, admits that he put the sexual content to keep readers interested but says his novel was really about the corruption of China. He further confesses that he got all his research from maopians, porn videos. Another reason for the shock from the novel was the fact that Jia had broken the three rules that they were so accustomed to by Chinese readers.
1) He downplayed the hero describing him as a “sexual pervert” with no power, no money, no influence and sex was the only way to escape his empty life. 2) He wrote explicitly about sex and 3) he did not offer a happy ending. Jia also said that he chose a writer as the main character because he knew them best. Not too many people see the novel”s true statement, which is the clear description of the “Chinese social system from the inside out. ” Most critics see The Abandoned Capital as a novel with “unbearable vulgar sex scenes. ” Yet I believe that bad press is always better than no press, and boy did Jia receive plenty of bad press. Actually the over all reception of the novel was pretty much fifty-fifty.
Most of the elders and elite”s of China demanded if Jia was going to write about sex freely, why couldn”t he write it with some “beauty and depth. ” Even Jia”s fellow writers poked at his writing saying “he wrote exactly the way he f***ed. ” And then of course there are the feminists. They see the novel as an obvious “male chauvinistic” view of women. They say that in Jia”s eyes “women are playthings, having no business in life except being the object of male appreciation and pleasure. ” They also added, “it”s as if Jia has never stepped into the twentieth century.
Even the author of China Pop, Jiangying Zha comments on her distaste of the novel saying “all that dirt… ” As I said before, not everyone disliked the novel. Evident fans of the novel were merchants at local bookstands. The first print run of 480,000 copies was completely sold out within two months! By the end of 1993 the novel had sold over a million copies. The following summer rumors of a ban on the novel began going around. This of course gave the novel even more publicity and made Chinese readers even more curious. Other fans of the novel compared D. H.
Lawrence”s Lady Chatterly”s Lover, which also contained sexual scenes, to Jia”s novel. One Beijing graduate student said reading both may cause a young man to masturbate but “with Lawrence he may feel a but ashamed of himself afterwards, but never with Jia! ” And some bluntly say, “there is absolutely nothing perverse in this novel”s sex scenes. “
A friend of Jiang adds that Jia is describing China”s current social system. With the “daily transactions of power, how people manipulate at all levels, the bribing, the networking, and the giving and receiving of favors. He further adds that people in the social system “know the invisible rules, and they know they can”t beat the system. They also know they can play along with this old game. ” It is said that no other Chinese novelist has ever illustrated this picture so well as Jia. Another friend of Jiang”s is a business lawyer that agrees with the fact that The Abandoned Capital is the Chinese society in a “nutshell. ” He even describes his encounters with taking advantage of the system. The Cultural Revolution left China with numerous changes.
However, as noted earlier, the Cultural Revolution left China as uneducated about sex as a ten-year-old child. In the seventies sex and romance disappeared from Chinese arts and literature. During these times men and women stayed single while displaying interest only in the revolution. The children of the revolution grew up in a vacant environment. They were not taught sexual education like the U. S. Jiang herself had not learned about the birds and the bees until she was nineteen. It was so bad that movies with kissing scenes were censored for children. During the mid-eighties the reform years were in full swing.
With it came the market of pornography. Guangdong, Fujian, and Hainan Island were the first mainland provinces to acquire the market. The flood of pornography astounded the Chinese government. There was nothing they could do to stop it. If they closed down one pornography ring a number of others would take its place. Every city and province in China has felt the effects of the flood of pornography. Some incidents include a television station worker that was so caught in his porno movie that he actually connected the wrong line and aired the movie to the entire city.
Some companies award clients with porn videos. By far the most disgusting display is children under ten were among the audience in cinemas showing porn. The lack of sexual educational programs will just keep this industry booming. Where else will the Chinese “fill in the blank spot important to millions? ” Some parts of the population watched their farm animals mate for their education. This led one couple to have “eight years of anal intercourse”! I believe without proper education on any subject leads to uninformed versions of that subject.
Being a man I don”t totally think pornography is bad, but it shouldn”t be used for sexual education. Growing up in a Chinese family I know very well how the red children of the revolution felt. However, living in America, there were so many ways to be educated on sex. I myself learned the facts of life through television and friends. I also was privileged to receive sex education in high school. Taking sex ed really removed a lot of myths about sex for me. The times have changed and China has to change with it. China is always playing catch up to the rest of the world.
Today sex is a freely talked about subject and China should realize this. Without proper sex education teenagers of China will be misled and probably endanger themselves. I believe Jia Pingwa didn”t write his novel to emphasize sex. I myself haven”t read the novel but I do truly believe that he wrote the fictional novel to describe his feelings toward the Chinese society today. Most bold writers are often misunderstood and this case is no different. Maybe living in America all my life has given me the freedom to think this way but if China would lighten up a little it would be only then the real learning begins.