Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Xujun Eberlein

From a Q & A with Xujun Eberlein about her debut story collection Apologies Forthcoming, winner of the 2007 Tartt Fiction Award:

Q. About half of your stories in Apologies Forthcoming are set during China’s Cultural Revolution, and another half in its aftermath. What sets you apart from other English fiction about this period?

A. So much of what I see in English literature about China is “victim literature,” which tells horror stories of victims during the Cultural Revolution. While that is needed, it gives only a partial picture, and a partial picture hinders understanding. As Milan Kundera once noted, man tends to look for clearly distinguished good and evil, as he has an irrepressible desire to judge before understanding.

An astounding fact, one that is largely either ignored or unseen by Westerners, is that the Cultural Revolution was an "all-people movement." By this I mean virtually everyone in China, at various stages of that movement, participated. There was often no clear divide between victims and victimizers, and people took turns to be in both positions. At any given point during that decade-long period, as well as immediately before and after, victimizers were turning into victims and vise versa. For some, it was only after they themselves became victims, that they recognized their own part in victimizing others. For others, that recognition never arrived. The Cultural Revolution was a period of history that inflated politically-based hatred and conflict to the extreme. We are talking about non-personal hatred here. In all the conflicts, there was a great tragic sameness – violence of one group of people against another, which we still see around the world today.

Another controversial perspective that I bring out in my stories is the strong idealism of the young generation of Chinese that became the Red Guards. Yet the fact remains that the Red Guards did commit numerous acts of violence. An important issue is thus the relationship between idealism and violence.

It is my intention to tell stories from more than one perspective, showing what actually happened during the period when I was a young witness. Several stories in this collection can be called participant stories instead of victim stories. It is not my concern to point fingers, rather I strive to portray reality in the full variety it has, and hope that brings a deeper understanding to readers.
Read the complete Q & A.

Visit Xujun Eberlein's website.

--Marshal Zeringue