The King of Trees: Three Novellas: The King of Trees, The King of Chess, The King of Children (Paperback)
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Three classic novellas—The King of Trees, The King of Chess, The King of Children—that completely altered the landscape of contemporary Chinese fiction.
When the three novellas in The King of Trees were published separately in China in the 1980s, “Ah Cheng fever” spread across the country. Never before had a fiction writer dealt with the Cultural Revolution in such Daoist-Confucian terms, discarding Mao-speak, and mixing both traditional and vernacular elements with an aesthetic that emphasized not the hardships and miseries of those years, but the joys of close, meaningful friendships. In The King of Chess, a student’s obsession with finding worthy chess opponents symbolizes his pursuit of the dao; in The King of Children—made into an award-winning film by Chen Kaige, the director of Farewell My Concubine—an educated youth is sent to teach at an impoverished village school where one boy’s devotion to learning is so great he is ready to spend 500 days copying his teacher’s dictionary; and in the title novella a peasant’s innate connection to a giant primeval tree takes a tragic turn when a group of educated youth arrive to clear the mountain forest. The King of Trees is a masterpiece of world literature, full of passion and noble emotions that stir the inner chambers of the heart.
About the Author
Ah Cheng, born in Beijing in 1949, is the pen name of Zhong Acheng. An accomplished fiction writer, painter, and screenwriter, Ah Cheng spent the Cultural Revolution in a small village in Inner Mongolia, where he painted the sheep and grasslands, and then on a State Farm in Yunnan province. During the 1980s he came to prominence as a member of the “primitive” or “seeking roots” literary movement. In 1992 he received the Italian Nonino International Prize for his writings, and in 1995 his Venetian Diary was honored in Taiwan. He has lived in several countries including the U.S., often not writing and working various jobs such as fixing bicycles and house painting. In recent years he has lived on the outskirts of Beijing and though he refuses to publish, he continues to write.
Nearly all the Chinese critics who discuss Ah Cheng’s work go to great lengths to praise the spare, concentrated expressiveness of his prose style…. But they see in Ah Cheng’s powerful language an indicator of something else, too—they see in his style an extraordinary evocation of the Chinese national spirit, something that years of class struggle under Mao’s aegis had sought simply to efface.
— Theodore Huters - Modern China
Beginning in 1984 with the publication of Ah Cheng’s novella The King of Chess, the last half of the 1980s represented a major turning point in contemporary Chinese fiction. From that time on, contemporary Chinese fiction has been ‘walking toward the world’ (zuoxiang shijie), a phrase that may be taken to mean approaching the quality of the finest in world fiction.
— Michael Duke - World Literature Today