by Qian Zhongshu
First published in China in 1947, Fortress Besieged is arguably the greatest Chinese novel of the twentieth century. Set on the eve of the Sino-Japanese War, our hapless hero Fang Hung-chien, with no particular goal in life and with a bogus degree from a fake university in hand, returns home to Shanghai. On the French liner back, he meets two Chinese beauties, Miss Su and Miss Pao. Qian writes, “With Miss Pao it wasn’t a matter of heart or soul. She hadn’t any change of heart, since she didn’t have a heart.” Fang eventually obtains a teaching post at a newly established university in the interior where the effete pseudo-intellectuals he encounters in academia become the butt of Qian’s merciless satire. Soon Fang falls into a marriage of Nabokovian proportions of distress and absurdity. A magnificent litany of misadventures, Fortress Besieged draws from traditions of both China and the West to create its own unique feast of delights. The renowned scholar of Chinese history, Jonathan Spence, provides a new foreword to this exquisite translation.