The Mystified Boat features postmodern fiction from China assembled by guest editor Herbert J. Batt. Shifting points of view, characters who misunderstand each other in ways that have dire consequences, unreliable narrators who address readers in order to tell them what to think, events that are impossible in the reality we know and depend on—these are some of the startling elements characteristic of the fiction in this volume.

The authors are some of China’s most experimental and best-known postmodernists: Ma Yuan, Ma Jian, Ge Fei, Hong Ying, Su Tong, Lin Bai, Yan Li, Can Xue, Wang Anyi, and Yu Hua. Through radical experiments with fiction, they seek to question the meaning of “story” and the many conventions that drive our assumptions about narrators and narration. Their stories take us from mountain villages to small towns on the outskirts of Chinese urban culture to the heart of cities, where life rushes at terrific speed.

In the overview essay, “Into the Labyrinth: An Introduction to Postmodern Chinese Fiction,” Batt and scholar Yongchun Cai clarify the intentions of the postmodern Chinese fiction writers, explain how the movement developed, and describe its influence in Chinese society and literature today.

The volume also includes rare ink-and-gouache works by painter Mu Xin and book reviews by Leza Lowitz, Trevor Carolan, Dino Mahoney, Liana Holmberg, Lavonne Leong, and others.

The man was whimpering as he held the rifle. He closed his eyes, counted off eight seconds, then with his long, slender finger pulled the trigger. From somewhere deep in the water tower, he heard a heavy roar. Outside, as before, came the roar of water running in the sluiceway and the sound of people’s rain boots treading on water. A red flower fell slowly from the sky above the water tower. That was his illusion of death.

“Where are all of you escaping to?”

The rifle fell from his hand. A bullet flew toward the sky. This is the story.

—from “Death without a
Burial Place” by Su Tong
(translated by Karen Gernant
and Chen Zeping)

“You don't have to share pillow and bed with these women,” Pei Zhong said to me once, “but there's no point in being afraid to inhale their scent either.” I remember our conversation was in a fast-food place near school, and while he was saying this, his eyes were fixed on a tall woman at the next table. He thought her breasts were something special. We both laughed. Soon afterwards, he told me in a serious voice that if I were interested, he could bring me the girl the next day. “I want you to know what it means to be scared out of your soul.”

—from “A Date in Purple
Bamboo Park” by Ge Fei
(translated by Lucas Klein)

A voice said: Only you. Chen Nong blocked Seven Leaves’s way and said: You can go home now. I'll send her back later.

Zhu Liang followed Chen Nong into a small room with an unlatched door. Chen Nong said: Don’t be afraid.

Chen Nong said: I feel very sympathetic toward you.

Chen Nong said: You didn't marry Zhang Mengda willingly, did you?

Chen Nong said: Do you have any relatives in your maternal family?

Chen Nong said: I saw you reading on the verandah seat, many times.

Chen Nong said: What do you plan to do now?

—from “The Seat on the
Verandah” by Lin Bai
(translated by Hu Ying)

It’s time to end the story. You’ve been to the mountains to stalk the wildman, you’ve been to the sky burial, you’ve heard Lu Gao's story of the two brothers: the adventurer and the bard. But wait a minute, you might say. There are still some problems to settle.

—from “Under the Spell of the
Gangtise Mountains” by Ma Yuan
(translated by Herbert J. Batt)

I sip warm wine out of a sky-blue bowl
flecked with agate crystals in the glaze,

press my eyes, squint at walruses on an ice floe.
When you step on stones in plover formation

and enter a tea garden—shift the rhythm
of your body, mind; admire the slender

splayed arc of branches, singed maple leaves
scattered on gravel—

—from “Inflorescence”
by Arthur Sze

Winter 2003 (vol. 15, no. 2)
217 pages

About the guest editor: Herbert J. Batt received his doctorate in Elizabethan drama from the University of Toronto, has taught at universities in Shanghai and Beijing, and has translated numerous works from Chinese. He is the editor and translator of Tales of Tibet, a collection of postmodern fiction written by contemporary Chinese and Tibetans, and was guest editor, with Tsering Shakya, of Song of the Snow Lion, published by MANOA in winter 2000.


Noon Thunder
painting by Mu Xin

Slumbering Stones
painting by Mu Xin

About the artist: Mu Xin was born in 1927 in Zhejiang Province, China. Trained at the Shanghai Fine Art Institute, he is well known in Taiwan and among the Chinese diaspora but little known in the West, though he now lives in New York City.