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The King of Trees

by Ah Cheng

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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 spirit, something that years of class struggle under Mao's aegis had sought simply to efface.

—Theodore Huters, Modern China

Three classic novellas – The King of Trees, The King of Chess, The King of Children – that completely altered the landscape of contemporary Chinese fiction.

The King of Trees

Fiction by Ah Cheng

translated by Bonnie S. MacDougall

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-wining 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. As moving and enduring as the best of Jack London or Knut Hamsun, The King of Trees is as relevant today as it will be tomorrow.

published June 1st, 2010