The Grave Reality of Wanderings (Excerpt)
Wen Yuan Ti Tan, Page 7, April 6, 2000
The Grave Reality of Wanderings
By Shen Wei
Homelessness, a fictional account about the wandering lives of a group of Chinese women in Europe, rivals the likes of Beijinger in New York, Manhattan’s Chinese Lady and Encountering America. This is particularly reflected in the refreshing depiction of the cultural clashes between China and the West, which appeals to our feelings by exposing the unuttered pains of those women who underwent the quartet of exotic atmosphere, adventure in new countries, mixed marriage and transnational sex. As written in the foreword – “Who am I? Where am I from? Where am I going?” they, alone in the European wilderness, asked the desert of the foreign land, when the evening bells of the new century rang. They were, after all, homeless.
Homelessness. Home refers to one’s native language and the cultural homeland which nurtures us. Homelessness, with a strong presence in post-modernist works, is particularly obvious in these women, likened to ‘Zhaojun’, a beautiful concubine of a Han Dynasty emperor who was sent across the frontier to marry the then Hun leader. They were exiles from their home country but were not accepted by foreign countries. They were once cultural elites back in China but a disadvantaged Chinese culture in Western context made it difficult for them to interact with the West. These put them into a cultural and existential distress.
Luo Li became the target of family contempt and was driven out of the country like a whore because of marrying a foreigner. Abroad, her marriage was marred by her education and her oriental moral views and aesthetics. Luo Li left home out of self-esteem, in the hope that she would sustain herself by finding a job; her ensuing life was, however, rife with suffering. A fellow Chinese even raped her. “Now that a foreigner can marry you and have sex with you, why can’t I?” the man said.
Guo Shuyun was excluded from her husband’s family after she married Franz, whose mother firmly believed that the woman from the east had seduced her son in a wretched way. Guo Shuyun was devastated by her husband’s refusal to let their children speak Chinese and the fact they was called “yellow monkey” in the school. “I love you very much,” said Franz. “But my love for you has hurt my family and I don’t want to hurt our kids, who still have to live on in Germany with confidence…” Again cultural clashes broke a family, as the couple ended up involved in a court battle over custody. Would justice heal a broken heart?
Meanwhile, Yun Rumeng found herself amid some complex romances. She hesitated between Jiang Hui, her first love; Stephen Bach, an ardent suitor of her; Hans, a man of kindness and modesty; and Zhu Zhenghua, who symbolized conscience and integrity. She wobbled between love and hatred until her first love – once the man of her dreams – shattered her dreams as an innocent young girl. And the death in battle of Zhu Zhenghua, the man she loved deeply, saw the newly-married woman in mourning dress only six months after their wedding. So many ordeals occurred to this woman, as if she was sent to the crucifix many times.
“Mid-autumn day in Munich, under the Chinese Tower in the English Garden, with the Isar river flowing yonder, there were only a group of Chinese girls singing…”
The dream of going abroad alludes to wanderings that are both romantic and tough, that are both beautiful and cruel. In the To Readers part of the novel, Sha Bihong, the author, writes: “My novel tries to illustrate a kind of essence. What is it? The book is opened now, and let’s go inside. She would take us to Europe, to women living abroad, and let’s share their aspirations, happiness, fantasies, dilemmas and agonies.”