It takes a village

2021-03-16 12:05:58

Liang Hong, a professor of contemporary Chinese literature at Renmin University of China, has completed five books based on life in Liangzhuang, a village in Wuzhen town, Rangxian county, Henan province.[Photo provided to China Daily] Author writes compelling tales of a community's challenges and triumphs in a narrative where change and hope are constant, Yang Yang reports. In 1973, Liang Hong was born in Liangzhuang, a village in Wuzhen town, Rangxian county, Henan province. Twenty years passed before she left. Since 2010, Liang, currently a professor of contemporary Chinese literature at Renmin University of China, has published three nonfiction books about the village, as well as a short story collection and a novel based on her life there. Liang is the youngest child of a five-children family. Before going to Nanyang Normal University in 1994, Liang taught in a primary school in the countryside. The salary was not only low but was often unpaid due to the local government's fiscal difficulties. Despite the bleak reality, Liang aspired to live a "profound" life, often buying bundles of secondhand Chinese literature magazines and reading them thoroughly. In 1994, she succeeded in entering Nanyang Normal University for a bachelor's degree, and in 1997, she went to Zhengzhou University for a master's degree, and three years later, she enrolled in Beijing Normal University for a PhD in contemporary Chinese literature. However, as her life turned "profound", she felt increasingly lost and doubtful about her work as a teacher in a university in Beijing. By 2008, she had even felt that her life in the city was fictional, having nothing to do with the reality, the land and soul. The connection between her and life was seemingly severed, she says. "I even felt ashamed at my teaching style and writing frivolous articles day and night. So meaningless," Liang writes in the preface of her first nonfiction book, China in Liangzhuang Village. On the other hand, having studied literary works about the countryside, Liang says she felt there were a lot of problems in rural areas that she had been thinking about for a long time. "In order to look for the answers, I went back home," she says. In July 2008, Liang took her 3-year-old son back to Liangzhuang. At first, she planned to write some essays. However, as she talked more and more with villagers, essays grew to be a book. She spent a total of five months in 2008 and 2009 interviewing villagers. Published in 2010, China in Liangzhuang Village won the year's People's Literature Award and in 2011 a top national book award-Wenjin Book Award. It has been translated into Japanese and French, and an English translation will come out soon in the United States. A mixture of the writer's description and reflection and villagers' first-person narration, Liang tried to faithfully record in the book people's lives and their plight more than a decade ago. With problems such as the "left-behind children", environmental destruction, and shortage of education opportunities and healthcare facilities, Liangzhuang village seems like a miniature of China in transition. However, this book focused only on the life of those who stayed. There were many villagers who had left for job opportunities in cities. In 2011, with the help of her father, Liang started visiting villagers who worked in more than 10 cities as migrant workers. After returning to Beijing, Liang rented an apartment to deal with the information and, in 20 months, completed the second book. In 2013, her second nonfiction work Out of Liangzhuang Village was published, telling stories of 51 villagers' struggles in cities over the last three decades, their frustration and loneliness. As the last book of the nonfiction trilogy, Liangzhuang Village in the Last Decade, published in January, records the change of the village in the past 10 years and depicts its current situation as well as the present life of the figures that appeared in the first two books. Compared with the previous two books, the latest one is light and more about the daily life of individual villagers.