Ts'an Hsueh was born in Ch'angsha, Hunan, of Communist party activists who married for love and shared the same ideals. However, only four years after her birth, they were declared Rightists and lost their positions at the New Hunan Newspaper office. Her mother was shipped off to a rural commune, where she suffered from illness and malnutrition. Ts'an Hsueh's maternal grandmother died of starvation in 1961. Ts'an Hsueh's education was cut short a few years later by the Cultural Revolution, when she had just finished primary school. For 10 years she worked at various jobs in iron casting, machine fitting, and light industry. In 1978 she met another rusticated youth who had returned to Ch'angsha and had become a carpenter. They married, had a baby, and decided to begin their own tailoring business. Ts'an Hsueh began writing fiction during the mid-1980s. Either she accidentally stumbled onto a nonreferential style of writing, or she was actively influenced by Western works in translation; at any rate, she is one of the few Chinese writers to carry out experiments in this direction. As Charlotte Innes writes in her foreword to Old Floating Cloud, a book containing two of Ts'an Hsueh's novellas, "to read Can Xue is . . . like falling asleep over a history book and dreaming a horribly distorted version of what you've just read."Her stories are not allegorical, but there are just enough political phrases sprinkled through them to make one feel that the author's own history and China's destiny are not totally divorced from her surreal world. One cannot approach Ts'an Hsueh's works as one would earlier mainland Chinese fiction. Rather than the familiar conventions of Socialist realism, one finds bizarre, morbid, and scatological imagery that may initially repel but that may also fascinate, if seen as an attempt to render symbolically her vision of a revolution degenerated into a nightmare in which humanity's more noble sentiments have been totally debased. Reading Ts'an Hsueh is a challenge that actively engages the reader in a quest for intelligibility and possible hidden significance.
Can Xueis the pseudonym of Deng Xiaohua, author of many novels and short works of fiction in Chinese. She lives in Beijing.Karen Gernantis professor emerita of Chinese history at Southern Oregon University.Chen Zepingis professor of Chinese at Fujian Normal University, Fuzhou, China.