Memory Lost and Revived: Zhang Chengzhi's Fictional Works on Educated Youth Sent to the Countryside

Jane Qian Liu

Published Date: Feb 28, 2022


The experience of life as sent-down youth was often depicted as a poignant life journey in many contemporary Chinese literary works, the memory of which people tend to obliterate. However, in his earlier fictional works, particularly in Rivers of the North (1984), Zhang Chengzhi (b. 1948) endeavors to revive that memory by having his protagonists revisit the locations where they were once sent, as a result of which they not only revisit “inhabited space”, but also relive “past time”. Youthful idealism which is closely associated with these geographical peripheries is revived and the memory of life as sent-down youth once again occupies a central position in the life of his protagonists, providing strength and meaning for their current life. Zhang narrates his autobiographical protagonist’s long journey to revisit the countryside as a “rite of passage”, endowing past time and inhabited space with semi-religious grandeur. In this way, earlier works written by Zhang anticipate his later conversion to Jahriyya, raising important questions on the relationship between memory and narration, Maoism and Islamism, and fiction and historiography. Zhang’s fictional works describe the confrontation of the city and the countryside, of intellect and instinct, and of civilization and ignorance, indicating an attempt to reverse the enlightenment thinking upheld by May Fourth intellectuals. His association of the country with idealism anticipates his later connection of the most impoverished geographical peripheries with religious sublimity in History of the Soul (1991).


Zhang Chengzhi, sent-down youth, cultural memory, Rivers of the North, History of the Soul

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