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A village finds its meaning

By Yang Yang | China Daily | Updated: 2023-02-25 10:11

The cover of the novel, Jiashan, which follows the lives of a rural family over five generations.[Photo/China Daily]

Set against the turbulent backdrop of war and upheaval, novel takes an insightful look into a community buffeted by history, Yang Yang reports.

One day in May, 1927, a wealthy man Chen Xiufu, or the Revered Youde from Shawan village in Central China's Hunan province, went to the county seat to seek information about his son Chen Shaofu who was serving in the army. After a military coup in Changsha, Hunan's capital, the county's head was killed. Chen Shaofu evaded the danger by returning to the countryside, where he set up a primary school with other villagers.

Starting at the end of Northern Expedition between 1924 and 1927, the 699-page novel Jiashan (Home Mountain) by Wang Yuewen unfolds the undulating history of Shawan village throughout the revolutionary period, the founding of the People's Republic of China and the construction of the country over the next two decades. In total, the story spans five generations of the Chen family.

At the book's launch ceremony recently in Beijing, Li Jingze, literary critic and vice-president of China Writers Association, said Wang's work provides an insight about how rural communities, with their long-existing social structure and cultural practices, created a new identity amid tremendous historical changes.

The epic novel is an encyclopedia of rural life in China. Rich in natural resources, Shawan, with hundreds of households, was dominated by rice-cultivating culture. The vast fields separated the village and the high Baozi (leopard) Mountain, where numerous wild animals — wolves, bears, wild dogs, foxes, boars, pheasants, squirrels, hares, yellow weasels, among others — thrived.

Wanxi River flowed past the village. On the broad sandy bank stood tangerine orchards, sugarcane and cotton plants. In the slack season on the farms, young men from the village, all surnamed Chen, left to find other work, such as that of a blacksmith or an apprentice.

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