In the novel A Cherry on a Pomegranate Tree, Li Er has shifted his focus from Chinese intellectuals to the rural areas, portraying a landscape of China’s rural community that undergoing the drastic transformations.
This novel addresses contemporary rural life and power relationships in a head-on way. Instead of structuring a grand plot, the novel progresses along with many strands of interlinked minutiae. It not only explores the nature of life from the vivid descriptions of mundane reality, but also demonstrates Chinese philosophy and unique Chinese-style solutions in day-to-day problems. The novel depicts a spectacular “rural war”--the one that has roaring waves beneath the tranquility. Though the village head doesn’t sound like a powerful role, it grips on the village’s political and economic life. However, the author does not intend to play up the cruelty of power struggles, nor sell the story in a sensational way. He presents a colorful rural picture in the new era through this unseen war. In his narration of the war, he teases and ridicules here and there as if he were a total outsider; In effect, it is such a detached narration reveals his mixed feelings towards the rural present.
Li Er portrays a myriad of lives under the temptation of power. Each character is fleshily built. All the details are well written; The story is interesting and intriguing right down to the core. Among modern Chinese rural narratives, this novel originates a new discription on China’s rural life through its witty language, avoiding the tranditional simplification such as “legendary” and “miserable”. As a whole, this story not only reflects the grand themes such as “Vernacular China”, “Modernity”, and “Democracy in practice” but also touches upon the daily routines in rural areas. It challenges the traditional narratives over this subject in modern Chinese literature, shifting the “rural community” from the object to the subject of imagination and presentation.It restores a diverse and authentic vernacular China and illustrates its indefinite possiblity in the future.
A Cherry on a Pomegranate Tree has well recived by readers since its publication. It has become a must-read book in home and abroad, for those who wants to have an in-depth understanding on the Chinese literature and current society.
Li Er, born in 1966, is a native of Jiyuan, Henan Province. After graduating from the Chinese Department of East China Normal University in Shanghai, he had taught in university for several years before pursuing a professional career in writting. He was once a professional writer in the Literature Academy of Henan Province while concurrently worked part-time as an associate editor-in-chief of Mang Yuan. Now, he works in the National Museum of Modern Chinese Literature. He started writing in the late 1980s, and soon be acclaimed, together with Bi Feiyu, as one of the most representative writers in Chinese avant-garde literature. His famous works include: the novels Coloratura, A Cherry on a Pomegranate Tree; and the novella and short story collections: Poetics in the Afternoon, A Chattering Mute, Lost in Memory, A Night Visit of the Library. Li won the 1st Dingyun Biennale Literature Award of the 21st Century, the 1st Chinese Media Book Grand Prix, the 9th Zhuangzhong Literature Award, the 3rd and 4th Master Literature Award, and shortlisted for Maodun Literature Award and Chinese Literature Award. His works have been translated into German, Japanese, Italian, Russian and many other languages.
The novel Coloratura was published by People’s Literature Publishing House in January 2002, drumming up quite a buzz in both home and abroad. It was viewed as one of the best novels between 2001 and 2002 among literature critics. The circulation of the book was nearly 10 million copies. Together with Mo Yan’s Sandalwood Death, the book won the 1st Dingjun Biennale Literature Award of the 21st Century and shortlisted for the 6th Maodun Literature Award.
A Cherry on a Pomegranate Tree is another masterpiece of Li Er after the massive success of Coloratura. It depicts how people’s self-esteem and moral conscience are tested by the allure of power. In the novel, the author magnifies every bit of minutia in language that comes off a mix of casualness and sense of humor, while maintaining delicate precision and detail. The descriptions of daily trifles that reveal truthfully the status quo of rural residents in modern times well qualify the book to the 1st Chinese Book Media Grand Prix·Literature Book Prize and be presented to Premier Wen Jiabao as a gift by German Chancellor Madame Merkel. The novel has also been adapted for both film and television, bearing the same title.
The 160,000-word novel A Cherry on a Pomegranate Tree creates a portrait of rural life in contemporary China through a village-level election. It reflects the complexities that the rural China has to face in the era of globalization as well as the difficulties and hopes along the modernization process.
Election season is starting again in Guan Village, and Fanhua, the current village head called her husband back from his temporary employment in Shenzhen. She hopes he can give her a hand in the campaign, helping her to solicit more votes and write an election speech.
At this crucial moment, Qingshu, the man who is in charge of Family Planning Policy Management in the village, came to report that Xue E is pregnant again,-- an absolute violation of Family Planning Policy! With elections right around the corner, Qingshu has acted more enthusiastically, asking for more responsibility once a new leading group is established.
Fanhua just finished her meeting on village’s election arrangement, wherein County Magistrate Zhang highlighted the importance of grassroots work. A single case of breaking the family planning policy would disqualify the current village committee director in the coming election. Should there be two cases, the entire administration will be expelled.
Family planning is the top priority for this village. Everytime Xue E’s pregnancy occurs to her, Fanhua finds it diffcult to breathe. She views the whole thing as a time bomb that ready to go off anytime. So, she set off to see Xue E the very next day with Qingshu. Though efforts had been made to deactivate this “bomb”, Xue E was being deliberately obtuse and making a scene in the end.
Come nightfall, Fanhua called the Youth League Secretary Meng Xiaohong, having her notify the officials to a meeting after dinner. Meng is someone Fanhua really likes and appreciates because of Meng’s proposal on the construction of the stone arch bridge. Meng Xiaohong is also a humble person, always says: “I’m young and inexperienced than many others in our village. It’s better you gave them more assignments rather than me” Isn’t that the nicest thing to hear! A lovely girl who fully awares of her position in here. Qingshu is no match for her – he brazenly asks for more power and relucant to keep in a low profile. Fanhua figures that she’d simply let Xiaohong take over the responsibilty of family planning regulation after the election; she could rest assured to let Xiaohong get everything under control, as she is more than capable of this position,
But not much later, the pregnant Xue E ran away. Her husband Li Tiesuo came to the village committee office and made a big scene. This was ridiculous – how dare you make this our fault when you deliberately let her hide away? Fanhua suggested to others: “Considering the current situation, the priority of our village right now is Xue E’s pregnancy. Let’s put our heads together and find out where she is. We’re all on the same boat – united we stand, divided we fall. It’s better that we sing in chorus rather than on our own.”
Xiang Sheng is the committee member in charge of cultural, educational and health matters. He is also the village accountant. But he’s been doing business in the Xiushui County in recent years. At the meeting, Fanhua concocted a plan – she will dispatch both Xiang Sheng and Qingshu out of the village to prevent them from forming campaign partnerships. Qin Sheng could be properly distracted by the task of finding Xue E, failure of which will get him blamed for negligence. For Xiang Sheng, he would be offered with some funds to attract that foreigner to the village.
County Head Niu said to Fanhua: “If you come across any difficulties in your work, mention them and the Party will do their best to solve them.” He also asked how confident she is for the election, to which she replied: “Serve a second term dedicately if elected, otherwise let it be.” The head praised her attitude: “I’m glad to hear you are duly prepared for both results. Having said that, I am all too certain you will be reelected. Actions speak louder than words, and I’d be worried all the time if I put the village in someone else’s hands. After all, over a thousand people live there.”
After a few drinks with Li Hao, a former classmate, Fanhua siad: “Election time again, you must help me this time. Leave your sheep herds aside for later – I want you to manage the fees paid by farmers, public accumulation funding, and other costs… everything! I need a confidant in the team, you know. A democratic finance team is to be set up in the village later, which you will also be heading.” Li Hao made it known to her that Xiang Sheng, who has coveted the position of village head, is expanding his campaign team to fight a winning battle. “What about Xiaohong?” asked Fanhua. She was very pleased to hear his answer: “Xiaohong is a golden phoenix. You are a perfect match for each other, just like the pictures of a dragon and phoenix carved on the stage wall. She is your born successor.” Speaking of Qingshu, Li Hao said: “All the books he reads are borrowed from me. They are all about Lin Biao. That’s what’s on his mind all day. Lin Biao wants to be the Chairman of the country, while he wants to be the committee director of the village.” Li Hao also slipped something to Fanhua that brief meetings have been going between some guys secretly. On the topic of Xue E, Li implied: “The eye of the typhoon is its most peaceful spot, and shadows lie under the light.” Fanhua was confused about what he said.
Fanhua only took Li Hao’s words partially and intended to check up on Xiang Sheng’s bank accounts. If there are any mishaps, they could get in the way of him in his quest for both positions of village secretary and head. This is well put by County Head Ma, “You will only get power when you pays for it, and God is equal to everyone.”
To put things straight, Xiang Sheng is a thorn in one’s hand. But once he pulled out of the election, this thorn was gone for everybody. As for Qingshu, Fanhua believes that he is nothing but a fish in the mud, stuck in one spot. Things will be fine as long as he just stays there and doesn’t mess around. Xiaohong, by contrast, has always fought for the interests of the village, a hero wounded by her plight.
Someone reported that Xue E was found in an abandoned paper plant, raising her kid there. Meanwhile, Pei Zhen, the woman who first reported this out-of-policy preganancy, was delivering foods to her. Fanhua sensed something fishy about this whole situation. Qingshu, Xiang Sheng and Shang Yi definitely all have a hand in it.
Pei Zhen confessed: “You must have known about this long time ago since Xiaohong founded out. It’s Xiaohong’s turn to deliver food today. She made it clear to me that only a few people should be involved in Xue E’s pregnancy at this critical period.”
Xiaohong? She knew all about this? And she’s delivering food to Xue E? All this new information caught Fanhua off-guard, making her world spinning.
The following day was the election day. Fanhua recovered from her fever. She didn’t go to the election assembly, but sitting in her yard instead. The meeting was chaired by County Head Niu, who spoke highly of “Comrade Kong Fanhua” that she has a commendable spirit, a spirit utterly devoted to serving the people. This spirit is an “heirloom” to the Guan village cadres, which must be kept at all costs. What followed were speeches, with Meng Xiaohong going first. Usually she’d speak only Mandarin in front of the loudspeakers but this time she spoke in the local dialect. She mentioned the paper plant particularly, saying that she hates pollution caused by the plant more than anyone else, and she are determined to fix the promblem.
Fanhua was waiting for Qingshu to give his speech next but surprised by the start of music from the loudspeak. Well, is it now time to vote? It seems Qingshu gave up the campaign as well. After a while, the music stopped and Xiaohong started her speech again. This was, for sure, her inauguration speech. She spoke in Mandarin, stirring the listeners passionately with the perfect pronunciation of a TV anchor. But her words never made it to Fanhua’s ears again.