Authors: Zhang Jie

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Chinese novelist and short-story writer

Author Works

Long Fiction:

Chenzhong de chibang, 1981 (Leaden Wings, 1987; better known as Heavy Wings, 1989)

Zhi you yi ge taiyang, 1988

Short Fiction:

Ai, shi buneng wangji de, 1979 (Love Must Not Be Forgotten, 1986)

Fangzhou, 1983

Zai nei lu cao dishang, 1983

Zum lu, 1985

Zhang Jie chi, 1986

As Long as Nothing Happens, Nothing Will, 1988

Yige zhongguo nuren zai Ouzhou, 1989

You Are a Friend of My Soul, 1990

Shi jie shang zui teng wo de na ge ren qu le, 1994


Fang mei sanji, 1982

Zongshi nanwang, 1990


Zhang Jie (jong jay) is the best-known contemporary Chinese woman writer. Her first novel, Heavy Wings, won the Mao Dun National Award for Novels in 1985 (an award granted once every three years); it has been translated and published in Germany, France, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark, Holland, Great Britain, United States, Spain, Brazil, and Russia. Since 1978, she has published numerous stories and won various prizes. Two collections of her stories, Love Must Not Be Forgotten and As Long as Nothing Happens, Nothing Will, are widely studied in European and American college classrooms. As Long as Nothing Happens, Nothing Will won the Italian Malaparte Literary Prize, an honor also accorded such well-known Western writers as Anthony Burgess and Saul Bellow.{$I[AN]9810001558}{$I[A]Zhang Jie}{$I[geo]WOMEN;Zhang Jie}{$I[geo]CHINA;Zhang Jie}{$I[tim]1937;Zhang Jie}

Zhang was born in 1937. During World War II, her father left the family, and her mother, a teacher, brought her up in a village in Liaoning Province. From childhood she showed a strong interest in music and literature. After graduating from the People’s University of Beijing in 1960, she was assigned to one of the industrial ministries. Her novella Heavy Wings and short story “Today’s Agenda” benefit from her acquaintance with industrial management and bureaucracy. Later Zhang transferred to the Beijing Film Studio, where she wrote film scripts. She started to write fiction at the age of forty, near the end of the Cultural Revolution, and in 1978 her story “The Music of the Forest” won a prize as one of the best short stories of the year. In 1979 she won another national short-story award for “Who Lives a Better Life”; “Love Must Not Be Forgotten” also became a widely read and controversial story. In 1985 she reached the climax of her literary career by winning the Mao Dun National Novel Award for Heavy Wings and the National Novella Award for Emerald, which appeard in Love Must Not Be Forgotten. Zhang actively participates in international creative activities. She has visited West Germany and America and was a visiting professor at Wesleyan University from 1989 to 1990. Zhang has been a council member of the Chinese Writers’ Association and the vice chair of Beijing Association of Writers.

Zhang is known as a tough woman. She took part in many political movements and joined the Chinese Communist Party at an early age. Although she mercilessly dissects the causes of China’s backwardness, which she attributes to feudal ideology as well as to the corruption of the Communist Party, she firmly defends the socialist system as best suited to China. Despite her support for socialism and genuine Marxism, however, she is often criticized inside China for her liberal tendencies. She proudly admits that she loves to read Western novels, particularly those of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Like Dai Houying, Wang Anyi, and other contemporary Chinese writers, she believes that the humanism in classical Western literature is something Chinese people should learn. She has been influenced by Western Romanticism as well as by social critical realism; she stresses love and sacrifice, conscience and responsibility in all her writings.

Zhang is also a pioneering feminist writer. She has one daughter, and she has been divorced twice because she could not tolerate men who attempted to dominate her. As a result of her bitter experiences of discrimination against women, especially divorced and unmarried ones, Zhang attacks male supremacy and patriarchal ideology in the Chinese social structure as well as in the consciousness and subconsciousness of every man. She staunchly insists on a woman’s right to remain single and free from sexual harassment and political discrimination. Like early feminist writers in the West, however, she regards denial of sexuality as necessary to achieve female autonomy.

Zhang writes on a number of themes with various characters. From national political and economic reform to individual daily problems; from unmarried girls’ idealistic pursuits to divorced women’s struggles against alienation; and from doctors’ housing problems to an intellectual’s vicissitudes, she writes in a vigorous, fresh, and romantic style. Her work has received considerable critical acclaim both in China and abroad. As a feminist writer, she has forged a distinctive style that blends utopian idealism with social reality in her exploration of women’s problems concerning love, marriage, and career. As a social critic, she exposes China’s hidden corruption and stubborn bureaucracy and vehemently champions democratic reform through literary means. For her integrated concern for women and society, Zhang can be compared with such Western writers as Doris Lessing, Marge Piercy, and Ursula Le Guin.

BibliographyBailey, Alison. “Travelling Together: Narrative Technique in Zhang Jie’s The Ark.” In Modern Chinese Women Writers: Critical Appraisals, edited by Michael S. Duke. Armonk, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe, 1989. Bailey analyzes Zhang Jie’s narrative technique according to Western theories and compares her “narrated monologue” with European writers of the nineteenth century. Bailey believes that Zhang’s effacement of the narrator ensures the reader’s identification with, and sympathy for, the three unconventional single women in the story.Chen, Xiaomei. “Reading Mother’s Tale–Reconstructing Women’s Space in Amy Tan and Zhang Jie.” Chinese Literature: Essays, Articles, Reviews 16 (1994). Analyzes the central roles of mother/daughter bonding in Zhang’s work.Dillard, Annie. Encounters with Chinese Writers. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1984. Dillard, in her chapter on Zhang Jie, vividly presents her, to Chinese and Americans, as a woman and a writer, through different images of the author. Dillard believes that Zhang always retains her trim bearing, while in China she is considered a nonconformist in dressing; Dillard also observes Zhang’s conservative reactions to political issues as well as to sexual allusions, while in China she is actually a most controversial, outspoken writer in both the matter of love and the question of political reform. The gap between the two images of Zhang points to the cultural and political distance between the United States and China.Elder, Richard. “Chinese Lessons: Heavy Wings.” Los Angeles Times Book Review, December 10, 1989, p. 3. A review of Heavy Wings; notes that the book is a panorama of small plots, vignettes, and sketches; claims that it is propagandistic, much of it reading like a fictionalized pamphlet.Feldman, Gayle. “Zhang Jie: A Chinese Novelist Speaks.” Publishers Weekly 230 (August 8, 1986): 27-28. Discusses the limitations of Zhang’s writing in China before 1978; notes Zhang is a controversial figure, both for her subject matter–women’s status in China–and for her use of “Western” writing techniques.Hsu, Vivian Ling. “Contemporary Chinese Women’s Lives as Reflected in Recent Literature.” Journal of the Chinese Teachers’ Association 23, no. 3 (1988): 1-47. Hsu analyzes several of Zhang Jie’s stories about women. She particularly notes the two women’s realization of their enslaved status in relation to the man whom they love in “Emerald.”Kenney, Michael. “Stories from China Make Sense of the Nonsensical.” The Boston Globe, August 9, 1991, p. 47. A review of As Long as Nothing Happens, Nothing Will; argues that the value of the stories in the collection is that they reveal the nonsensical that lies behind the apparent orderliness in China; asserts that the compression of the short-story form here is heightened by the concreteness of the Chinese language.Liu, Lydia H. “Invention and Intervention: The Female Tradition in Modern Chinese Literature.” In Gender Politics in Modern China: Writing and Feminism, edited by Tani E. Barlow. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1993. Discusses female subjectivity in Zhang’s fiction.Louie, Kam. Between Fact and Fiction. Sydney, Australia: Wild Peony, 1989. In chapter 5, “Love Stories: The Meaning of Love and Marriage in China, 1978-1981,” Louie treats Zhang’s story “Love Must Not Be Forgotten” as a social commentary against the background of China’s present problems concerning love and marriage. He points out that the story aims at China’s problem of “old maids” and that Zhang’s shouting at the end of the story is truly significant because her heroine remains single, “in defiance of aspersions inevitably cast upon her desirability.” Louie also discusses love stories by other Chinese writers published in the early 1980’s. Includes an excellent bibliography.Yichin Shen. “Womanhood and Sexual Relations in Contemporary Chinese Fiction by Male and Female Authors: A Comparative Analysis.” Feminist Issues 12 (Spring, 1992). Compares Zhang’s novella The Ark, found in Love Must Not Be Forgotten, with novels by Gu Hua and Zhang Xianling.Zhang, Jie. “My Boat.” Chinese Literature, Summer, 1985, 51-54. Zhang Jie provides autobiographical information as well as her views on literature in relation to life, society, and the self. She believes that it is quite tragic for Chinese writers that the Chinese cannot separate fiction from real politics, thus persecuting writers endlessly.
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