Monthly Archives: September 2014

Everyone Can Be a Writer

Writing needs passion. It is also about perseverance. If you have readers who like your writing, you feel inspired, eager to toil more, and enjoy it immensely. Two years ago I opened a Chinese blog in, a website that targets overseas Chinese readers, and started to post some short pieces on women’s lives, responses to Chinese pop culture, thought-provoking incidents of everyday life, reviews of bestsellers, etc. I quickly got some fans. But with various occupations, I did not continue. Now determined to pick up writing again, I feel a sense of guilt for my fans. I realize, the call for writing in me has never died out. At this stage of life, it becomes even stronger, no longer allows me to overlook it.

In addition to teaching Literature and Composition at Concordia University College this term, I am lucky to be invited to audit Professor Betsy Sargent’s graduate course, Composition Theory, in order to get ready to teach a session of Writing Studies 101 in the winter term. I originally thought this theory course must be dry and boring, but the first class smashed my preconception.

We were introduced to the fundamental concept of inkshed, not through lecture but through a 15-minute free writing practice. We learned that a good writer first and foremost should put aside all the worries, concerns, and fears, simply allowing the pen in the hand or the fingers over the keyboard dance freely. Don’t be afraid that your words are not elegant, your sentences not smooth, your punctuations improper. Just write. This is called “inkshed.” It draws out thoughts and feelings that come from your heart, and we all know that artist creation of this kind tend to be the most powerful. This is the initial step. If you can write non-stop and write with confidence, your first step of writing is successful. What follow are revision, getting comments from peers, and ultimately publication.

For William Stafford, an American author born during the First World War, a writer “is not so much someone who has something to say as he is someone who has found a process that will bring about new things he would not have thought of if he had not started to say them.” Like an artist who can find in his/her painting things that may surprise her to change the original plan of drawing, a writer can encounter an insight, a kind of enlightenment unexpectedly. Without the process of writing, however, s/he may never experience this epiphany moment.

It is that the process of writing endows one with creativity, not that only one with creativity can be a writer. This important point about writing comes from one of the many excerpts selected into the book Conversations about Writing: Eavesdropping, Inkshedding, and Joining In, all written by accomplished writers and scholars of writing studies. Flipping through the book, you don’t see hard-to-chew theoretical jargons. All you see are vividly described stories about how writers approach writing from their personal experiences, or experts who studies writing and the use of language sharing their learning about writing in a friendly way. Reading the book, you feel you’re having one conversation after another with writers and professors about the act of writing, sharing their writing experience, taking their advice, and learn to approach writing from an innovative perspective. You feel the urge to give writing a try because you, too, are equipped with the tool of language.

This is a three-hour evening class. I whined earlier I had to give up my favorite Chinese folk dance class. But I felt interested already after the first class. What is more valuable is that it stimulated my desire to write, encouraged me to keep writing and harvest the joy of sharing my work with the readers.

The Tragedy of the Chinese Movie, “Coming Home”

China’s recently released movie, Coming Home, is a hot topic in Edmonton’s Chinese community. It is another film directed by ZHANG Yimou, who is also the director of To Live and many other internationally award-winning films. This new one is an adaptation – a truncated version, to be exact – of YAN Geling’s novel called《陆犯焉识》, LU Yanshi, the Criminal (my translation). YAN’s novel covers a wide historical span from the Republic of China in the early twentieth century to the present-day China where the country is undergoing drastic changes as a result of its economic reform. Against the backdrop of the drastic changes of modern China unfolds the life story of LU Yanshi, the title protagonist. A gentleman from a wealthy family in Shanghai in the 1920s, Yanshi had the privilege of going to the US for further education. He became a university professor after coming back to China and sailed through his life until China launched its anti-rightist movement in the late 1950s. He was put into prison for twenty years and, later, after being released, becomes an outcast in both his family and the society. The film version focuses on the middle part of the novel, starting from LU’s failed escape out of the prison to his life with his family after being released back home in the early 1980s.

Coming Home’s interesting paradoxes enhance the tragic effect of the movie. The love between the couple, for instance, is plainly represented, yet the simplicity of form indexes the complexities of their life under an unpredictable political system. Different from ZHANG Yimou’s first success – Red Sorghum, a film based on the Nobel Prize winner MO Yan’s novel – where the love between “my grandpa” and “my grandma” is loudly rebellious, heroic, and romantic, the love between LU Yanshi and his wife, FENG Wanyu, is the deeply felt but subdued kind. We don’t see the passion of love-making in the sorghum fields, but passion is evident in Wanyu’s cold face when interrogated by the Communist authority, in her prepared meeting with Yanshi regardless of the danger of assisting an escaped criminal, and in her immediate recognition of Yanshi after more than ten years of separation when hearing his gentle, expectant, and cautious knock at the door. She did not open the door but only stood there, gazing at the door and letting her tears running profusely. In these slow-paced scenes, we see the kind of love that is enduring, almost timeless, love that is based on decades of mutual, unspoken understanding, support, encouragement and comfort, the kind of love that grows solidified and undefeated when the couple strive to survive China’s harsh political climate.

The tragedy of being so close yet unable to see each other looms larger when Yanshi found his wife suffering from amnesia after he came back home from twenty years of imprisonment in Xining. Wanyu remembers the date of her husband’s arrival; she remembers to dress up and to meet Yanshi at the railway station; she remembers to write in big strokes the name of her husband on a signboard and bring it with her for fear Yanshi can’t see her in crowds when coming out of the station. But her memories disable her from recognizing Yanshi even when he finally stands face-to-face with her. More sadly, she remembers him as Master FANG, who has sexually assaulted her when she asked him for help with Yanshi’s case when the latter was still in prison. No matter how hard Yanshi tries, he is always “Master Fang” in Wanyu’s eyes and always causes her fear and fury.

This paradox of Wanyu’s forgetful memories of her husband reaches the climax in the movie’s ending scene. Yanshi, whom Wanyu remembers to be a kind-hearted neighbour, a good-natured piano-tuner, a reader of her husband’s unmailed letters from the prison, seems content with his roles. When Wanyu is too weak to go to the railway station to meet her husband, Yanshi tricycled her to the station. The movie ends with Yanshi holding the signboard with his own name; together with Wanyu who sits in the cart, Yanshi gazes expectantly at the big crowd coming out the train from Xining, the place where his prison locates.

The movie, which has English subtitles, is available in three sections here: