|Date of birth||May 29,1866|
|Date of death||October 21,1910 (aged 54)|
|Ancetral home||Foshan, Guangdong, China|
Wu Jianren(吴趼人,1866-1910) was a Chinese novelist of condemnation in the late Qing Dynasty. Wu was born in Beijing but his ancestral home was in Foshan, Guangdong province where he had spent most of his childhood. One of his more famous style-name was Wo fuoshan ren (I, a man of Foshan,我佛山人) and he wrote a large number of novels, fables and proses under it. Wu wrote more than 30 kinds of literary works and was known as the "Master of Novels", an outstanding representative of the condemnation novels in the late Qing Dynasty. His novel Bizarre Happenings Eyewitnessed over Two Decades (二十年目睹之怪现状) and Strange Grievance Case of Nine Lives(九命奇冤)have a great influence on modern Chinese novel.
After the failure of the Hundred Days' Reform in 1898, Liang Qichao’s political novel theory of "Xinmin shuo (Discourse on the New Citizen,新民说)" fully met Wu Jianren’s spiritual needs of anxiety and confusion. He actively responded to and implemented Liang’s proposition of “improving the rule of the masses” and emphasized the effect of social reform of literature. Therefore, this "revolution of the Chinese novel"built a new stage of Wu Jianren's novel creation and his novel theory construction.
On May 29, 1866, Beijing, Wu Jianren was born into a well-educated family, and his ancestors had been officials for generations working for Qing dynasty. The family’s fortunes went into even steeper decline after Wu's grandfather's death, and they returned to Foshan in 1867. In 1878, Jianren enrolled in the Foshan Academy where Liang Qichao also studied there many years later. The suffering and decline of his family and the darkness of society caused him to have an instinctive antipathy and aversion to the imperial examination for the eight-legged(八股文) system art that separated reality, and sowed the seeds of "condemnation" in novels in the future.
In 1883, 18-year-old young man was forced to seek work in Shanghai, a year after his father's death. He worked as a copyist in the Translation Hall of Shanghai Jiangnan Manufacturing Bureau for 13 years.
In 1897, Wu established a tabloid newspaper in Shanghai, and edited several newspapers and publications. In April 1903, he went to Wuhan and worked for Hankou Daily (汉口日报). In 1905, he accepted the position of editor of the Chubao(楚报), an American-owned newspaper published in Hankou. Because of the renewal of the discriminatory Chinese exclusion acts in the U.S., he resigned and returned to Shanghai and joined the anti-American movement. Wu made many speeches against the unreasonable treaties of the U.S. His eloquent and righteous speeches moved and inspired many people.
On October 21,1910, Wu Jianren died in Shanghai at the age of 45. More of Wu's writings continued to be published posthumously for a considerable period after his death, providing yet more testimony to his extraordinary productivity and his great popularity in the novel, xiaoshuo, form he did so much to revivify.
In 1897, Wu Jianren leaved Jiangnan Manufacturing Bureau and went to work as an editor of Xiaoxian news (消闲报) and later ran Zilin Shanghai news (字林沪报), Wind collector news (采风报), Fable news (寓言报), etc. Fable News came out 56 years earlier than the earliest foreign fable publication founded by Germany, and it was almost supported by Wu Jianren alone. Wu was good at using the "comparison" technique to reflect the pathological society and life. It can be said that Wu Jianren is the most important writer in the history of modern Chinese allegory, but such achievements are overshadowed by his novels.
In April 1903, he went to Wuhan and worked for Hankou Daily (汉口日报). Since this year, he devoted himself to writing multichapter novels (Zhanghuiti Xiaoshuo, 章回体小说) and published in the New Novel (新小说) magazine edited by Liang Qichao. Under the pseudonym Wo foshan ren, he wrote Pain History (痛史), Bizarre Happenings Eyewitnessed over Two Decades(二十年目睹之怪现状) and Strange Grievance Case of Nine Lives (九命奇冤) reflecting the reality and exposing the darkness of the social political corruption and greed of the corrupt officials brutality.
In 1906, he was the chief writer of the magazine All-story monthly (月月小说) and published a large number of humorous and abusive articles. In his introductory words in that first issue, Jianren mentioned that the purpose of the journal was to publish fiction that would provide moral uplift in trying times.
The New Story of the Stone (新石头记)
- The New Story of The Stone was originally published in Shanghai Nanfang Daily from August 21, 1905 to November 29, the 31st year of Guangxu Emperor, and signed "Old Young Man". In October 1908, the Shanghai Reform Fiction Society published a single edition entitled "Notes on Drawing New Stones", labeled as "Social Fiction" and signed "Wo fuoshan ren". From this point of view, Wu Jianren intended to write a "social novel" at the beginning .
- The New Story of the Stone(1905) was originally labeled as a "social novel" and later as an "ideal novel". It is a sequel to Cao Xueqin's A Dream of Red Mansions, but it has little to do with Cao's work, and it is merely a re-entry of Jia Baoyu into the world to express the grievances buried in Wu Jiaren’s minds. The first half of this book reflects the dark reality of Chinese society at the beginning of the 20th century, while the second half focuses on the blueprint of the author's ideal "civilization state".
- Most of the new novels in the late Qing dynasty were concerned with the comparison between constitutional monarchy and enlightened despotism.The New Story of The Stone shows that constitutional monarchy was more suitable for China from different aspects. Wu Jianren described his own ideas in the blueprint of "civilization" and the advantages of enlightened despotism and shows the imagination through the aspects of political, economic, life, transportation, education, military, industry, agriculture and so on. In the description of "civilization" , Wu also showed many interesting science fiction plots, such as the reform of the people's diet, automated sewing clothes, weapons of electrification, farming mechanization, and the artificial climate control.
- In The Dream of Red Mansions, Jia Baoyu finally decided to become a monk. However, he was reborn in 1901, in The New Story of the Stone. On the journey to Shanghai, Nanjing, Beijing and other places, he was attracted by massive new things, such as matches, ships, lights and so on, and he was deeply astonished by the atmosphere of worshiping foreign things, for which he developed a deep love for China. In the second half of the article, Wu Jianren set up another scene. Jia Baoyu stepped into the mirror of civilization, a dystopian autocratic society. From the sky to the sea, from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean and from the Antarctic to the Arctic, he traveled around the earth and was shocked by countries with a high degree of civilization development. Jia Baoyu confidently believes that this is the right way to solve the current predicament of the Chinese people.
The Sea of Regret (恨海)
- The Sea of Regret (恨海) is one of Wu Jianren’s most famous novels published in the late Qing in October 1906. It is a short Chinese romantic novel with ten chapters that responded to the novel Stones in the Sea by Fu Lin, published in May 1906. The Sea of Regret is Wu's first serious romance with two other novels: Jie Yu Hui (Ashes of the Holocaust), serialized in All-Story Monthly in 1907-1908, and Qing Bian (Passion Transformed), serialized in another journal in 1910 and wasn't complete until Wu died.
- The story is set in a period of chaos caused by the Boxer Uprising of 1900. Wu vividly depicted the social situation of the Boxer Uprising such as the threats, the rumors, the panic, the uncertainties, the inconveniences, and the sudden or unanticipated problems.  Wu's focus was not only on the subject of the traditional marriage system in the modern age, but on the regions, classes, generations and mainly the condition of China.
Plot and Theme
- The Sea of Regret talks about the lives and fates of the two couples living in the era of the chaotic Boxer Uprising. The novel demonstrates ambivalent mortality with the theme of love and arranged marriage in modern society. Zhang Dihua, the female protagonist, fell in love with the idea of her fiancé and then transfered her love to Chen Bohe who is her actual fiancé her parents chose for her. Most of the story tells of Bohe, Dihua and her mother fleeing South through the area of warfare between Boxers and foreign troops. Throughout the story, Dihua struggled between her love for her fiancé and her duty to her mother. Chen Zhongai, Bohe’s younger brother, and his fiancée Wang Juanjuan are also the couple of arranged marriage, and their destiny unfolds in the storyline as well. The notable characteristics of The Sea of Regret are “the excessiveness of the female protagonist’s virtue" and "the melodramatic manner with which she conforms to the wifely ideals of Confucianism”. Hence, the story of fateful love and the sacrifice of women explore the modernity that comes from fast changing relationships between men and women and between parents and children.
Jie Yu Hui (劫余灰)
Background, Story and Writing Styles
- Jie Yu Hui was first published in The All-story Monthly (月月小说) in 1907. Although Jie Yu Hui is not as famous as The Sea of Regret, both are subject matter for romance or love novels (写情小说). Compared with The Sea of Regret, Jie Yu Hui was not published in a single edition but in the form of serialized newspapers and periodicals to make the public well known. It took him more than one year to complete this book.
- However, there are similarities between this two stories. In order to attract more readers, Wu always leaves suspense at the end of each chapter. That is, he uses "且听下回分解," you have to wait for the next chapter if you want to know more, to end each chapter in Jie Yu Hui. 
- In some chapters of Jie Yu Hui, Wu uses the method of combining internal comments and external comments to narrate the story, so that the narrative perspective of the novel is transformed from the first-person narration of the protagonist to the third person, Wu, outside the story. For example, in the fifth chapter of the story, he even explains directly in the text that his portrayal of the characters here is different from that of other novels.
- The story background of Jie Yu Hui sets during the period of Chinese Labor and the Chinese Exclusion Act. In response to this Act, the public actively participated in the 反美华工禁约运动 to solve the problem of Chinese workers' unemployment.
- Jie Yu Hui is divided into sixteen chapters. This story opens with the engagement between Wanzhen (婉贞)‘s and Chen Chou (陈畴)'s father in Guangdong. Wu spent much of the story telling about Wanzhen’s tragic experience. Wanzhen is taken to Guangxi province by her uncle on the pretext of visiting her grandmother and sold to a brothel, where she is brutally beaten and ill-treated. However, Wanzhen finally manages to escape with her intelligence and wisdom. After that, she has a series of troubles and each time is bruised and nearly killed, but she is safely delivered after all these suffering to her father who always worries about her. Wanzhen's fiance, Chen Chou, is also deceived and sold by her uncle to 猪仔馆 or the quarter, as a cheap labor force. Despite the difficulties the two go through separately, in the end they get together at home.
Bizarre Happenings Eyewitnessed over Two Decades (二十年目睹之怪现状)
- In the late 19th century, as the Qing government became increasingly corrupt, a group of writers with a patriotic conscience used the novel as a literary form to expose and condemn the ugly phenomena of society. One of the representative works is Bizarre Happenings Eyewitnessed over Two Decades by Wu Jianren.
- Bizarre Happenings Eyewitnessed over Two Decades is a long autobiographical novel, one of the four major condemnation novels of the late Qing Dynasty, with 108 chapters intotal. As a patriotic reformist, Wu saw the political darkness and official corruption of the Qing Dynasty, so he attacked and mocked it through his novel.
- The novel is about the 20 years from the Sino-French War in 1884 to 1904. Through nearly 200 short stories of the protagonist, from the loss of his father to the failure of his business, it outlines the oddities of the society of the late Qing Dynasty. It shows a picture of the society on the eve of the collapse of the Qing Dynasty and depicts the madness of imperialist aggression from the side.
- Besides depicting the officialdom, the novel also deals with the commercial market, the foreign affairs market, the scientific market, and the fields of medicine, astrology, and religion.
- It depicts the political situation, moral outlook, social customs and human affairs of the increasingly colonized Chinese feudal society. Therefore, it has high comprehension value and can help readers gain perspective on the dying late Qing society and the irreversible historical fate of the feudal system.
Character Image Analysis
- In his twenty years in the world, the main character encountered only three kinds of things: one is snakes, insects, rats and ants; the second is wolves, tigers and panthers; the third is spirits and monsters. He has avoided all of them, so he calls himself "a life of nine lives".
- When he was desperate in Nanjing, he met Wu Jizhi, a close friend of his classmate, and since then they have become friends. He grew up under Wu Jizhi's education and training, and was a loyal follower of Wu Jizhi. When Wu was an official, he was Wu's personal secretary; when Wu was in business, he was Wu's manager; when Wu went to be an examiner, he acted as a writer and read the papers for Wu. He was quick and clever.
- However, he only saw the dark corners of society, could not see the power of the people, thought he could see through the world, and thus became cunning and cynical. He hated social evil and defended the feudal system, but at the same time he despised merit and had no intention to pursue a career.
- His uncle advised him many times to use Bagu 八股 to achieve success and fame, but he refused. He had insightful opinions about the officialdom, for example, he once said to his mother, "This official is not a human being. The first thing you have to learn is that you have to learn to be mean and lowly before you can get a job. And you have to put your conscience aside and use the bloodless tactics to get money." 
- But worshipping the virtuous, presiding over justice, suppressing evil and promoting goodness, and being helpful to others are indeed another aspect of his character.
- Its artistic value is influenced mainly by the novel's use of the first person to narrate the story and structure the whole chapter in a way that makes the reader feel intimate and credible, which is a precedent in the history of Chinese fiction. It also uses flashbacks and interpolations in its structure, providing a model for the creation of Chinese novels. 
- In Jie Yu Hui, Wan Zhen (婉贞) inherits and develops the idea of determination of the woman's virginity in The Sea of Regret, and this "love" (情) is considered to be a long-term love (长情) because it strengthens the standard of traditional moral norms.
- From the standpoint of the new writers, A Ying (阿英) pointed out that Wu's ultimate goal is to maintain traditional morality through his love novels. 
- Besides, Huang Lin (黄霖) also pointed out that Wu Jianren aims to change the problems existing in the current society through his love novels, and his theory is based on "the innate theory of human nature. "
- Wang Dewei, in his book Suppressed Modernity: A New Theory of Fiction in the Late Qing Dynasty, classifies The New Story of The Stone as "a fantasy of science fiction". He replaced the more popular "science fiction" with the term "science fiction fantasy" to emphasize the mixed nature of the genre in the late Qing dynasty. Wu Jianren's The New Story of The Stone is the most fascinating Utopian novel of the late Qing dynasty.
At the end of the Qing Dynasty, when social fiction were prevalent, many writers worshiped Rulin waishi,(or Unofficial History of the Scholars,儒林外史) and imitated its style to expose corruption. In A Brief History of Chinese Fiction(中国小说史略), Lu Xun referred to such social novels as "condemnation novels(谴责小说)", among which Wu Jianren was an outstanding representative writer.
The imaginations of the future society in the new novels of the late Qing dynasty all expressed through dreams of the characters. For instance, in The New Story of The Stone, Wu Jianren showed his expectations towards the future society through the reborn of Jia Baoyu. He also described that the country here is rich, people are strong, and China will lead the world peace. The similarity of these novels is that, different from the imperialist colonial expansion, the future "new China" is not only a refutation of the "jungle law" of the great powers, but also a continuation of the dream of "Chinese empire".
In ancient Chinese novels, the method of omniscient narration was often used, then Wu Jianren used the first-person limited narration in his short stories. His novels broke through the single mode of narration and presented the structural characteristics of multi-level narration with changing narrators. He was in this way eleven years earlier than Lu Xun wrote Diary of a Madman (狂人日记). He opened a new route for the Chinese short stories which have been stagnant for a long time. His works are of great value to the study of the short stories in the transitional period of modern China.
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