Xu Mao and His Daughters unfolds around the entry of the CPC working group into a mountainous village in Sichuan’s Tuojiang River area in winter 1975 and centers around the Xu family. Against the background of the Cultural Revolution, the novel, the first on this theme, describes the impact of the political calamity on the Chinese countryside, with the focus on Xu Mao, a simple and industrious peasant, and his family. Abandoning the leftist literary theories still prevalent at the time, Zhou instead builds the novel on his genuine feelings and deep reflections on real life and characters. Under the guidelines of truth, kindness and beauty, he succeeds in reflecting the truth of life, presenting moral courage and creating literary beauty. The novel stands out with multi-plot structure, vivid characterization and splendid language.
In the acceptance speech of Mao Dun Literature Prize, Zhou said: “the People are the mother to the writer. Life is the soil of literature.” The success of Xu Mao and His Daughters lies in the author’s faithful pursuit of the realist literary tradition, shining with originality, vividness and linguistic brilliance. Zhou manages to create an artistic world which whilst based in reality, shines with sparks of idealism, enriching contemporary Chinese literature.
Zhou Keqin (1936.10.28-1990.8.5) was born in Jianyang county, Sichuan province.
Upon graduating from Chengdu Agricultural Technology School in 1958, Zhou returned to his hometown. Starting out as a farmer, he later became a teacher, captain of the production team, accountant for the production team, agricultural technician and leader of the local commune and district. In 1979, he was transferred to the Sichuan Federation of Literary and Art Circles to work as a professional writer. In 1980 he joined the China Writers’ Association. In 1985 he became a member of the CPC committee of Sichuan Writers’ Association. In 1990 he became deputy CPC secretary and vice chairman of Sichuan Writers’ Association as well as chief editor of Modern Writers, a literary monthly magazine.
In 1963 he published his first work, At the Well, followed up by more than twenty other pieces of work, such as Early Riser. In 1979 he published Xu Mao and His Daughters to great acclaim, a novel that vividly describes and deeply reflects on the life in the countryside during the decade of turmoil. This novel marks the milestone in Zhou’s literary career, winning him the 2nd Mao Dun Literature Prize.
Besides the above mentioned, Zhou’s works also include Er Ya and The Poor Scholar, a collection of short stories and novellas, The Shi Siblings, a collection of short stories. Short stories such as The Scent of Orange, Evening, Forget Me Not, which won 1980 National Award for Excellent Short Story, and The Moon over the Mountains Have No Idea What I Think, which won 1981 National Award for Excellent Short Story.
In the winter of 1975, the CPC county committee working group, consisting of Yan Shaochun the leader, and Qi Jiangming, her subordinate, arrive at Huluba in western Sichuan to carry out a pilot project of restoring order to the local community. Local CPC leader, Long Qing, assigns Yan Shaochun to stay at the home of the elderly Xu Mao. Xu Mao is a widower, having lost his wife early on, who died soon after giving birth to their 9th daughter. Thanks to the policy of land reform and agricultural co-operation following the liberation, he manages to bring up his nine daughters. At that time, Xu Mao, was perfectly happy with the policies, having once assumed the role of working team leader and even winning awards for his efforts. In recent years, however, with “misfortune” dogging him, he feels bitter and is becoming more and more stubborn and selfish.
Xu Mao has nine daughters altogether, so he is nicknamed by the local populace as the “Monarch of the Kingdom of Women.” The eldest, wife of former local CPC secretary Jin Dongshui, already died. His second, fifth and sixth daughters all married into households in Chuanxiba and live in relative prosperity. Xu Qiuyun, the third daughter of the family is nicknamed the “spicy third” due to her fiery temper, is married to the multi-talented and honest Luo Zuhua in the eastern village. The seventh daughter works at the commune shop. The eighth daughter joined the army. Xu Qin, the ninth daughter and local secretary of Communist Youth League, is a passionate girl of twenty.
The story begins on the day prior to the working party’s arrival in Huluba. Xu Xiuyun, the fourth daughter who divorced her husband, suddenly declares to Xu Mao that she is unwilling to marry into the mountainous village as was previously arranged and that she will set herself up in his ramshackle hut. Xiuyun, tender and industrious, is now divorced from Zheng Bairu, the man who tricked her into marriage ten years ago, and is currently Huluba’s local CPC secretary. Zheng Bairu took his position from Jin Dongshui, widower of Xu Mao’s eldest daughter, by employing vile methods and committing many evil deeds. Tired of his marriage to Xiuyun, he divorced her a year ago on the trumped-up pretext of her infidelity with Jin Dongshui. Influenced by outdated ideas, Xu Mao and Qiuyun, the third daughter, decide to marry Xiuyun off as soon as possible to avoid any social stigmas. Luo Zuhua, husband to Qiuyun, arranged a match-up with a widower in Luogushan, with the engagement to be soon announced. Now, Xiuyun suddenly decides to break off the engagement, and that causes a furor in the family. Fed up with the gossip in the village, Xu Mao decides to expel Xiuyun. Qiuyun, while sympathetic with Xiuyun’s misfortune, fails to truly understand her. While the Xu family is struggling with the impasse, Zheng Bairu, seemingly a different person from his usual arrogant self, humbly begs Xiuyun to forgive him and re-marry him, going so far as to sneak into her bedroom at night. It turns out that he intends to prevent Xiuyun from revealing his evil deeds, such as burning down Jin Dongshui’s house, to the coming working group. Xiuyun, however, turns his offer down flatly.
Xu Mao views Yan Shaochun with mistrust. Yan, a middle-aged woman who used to head up the Publicity Department of the CPC county committee, has just returned from the training school for party workers and has started to work in the countryside with passion and dedication. She does not mind Xu’s mistrust. She instead upon hearing him coughing violently at night helps to procure medicine for him, for which she receives 20 cents from Xu, who is still maintaining his distance between them and reminding her to pay for her board. Pained by such mistrust of the peasants for the Party workers, Yan sets out immediately to find out the reasons. During all this time, Qi, her arrogant subordinate, is completely ignorant of the situation and manipulated by Zheng to make the offer of re-marriage to Xiuyun in the name of the working party. Xiuyun, who initially entertained great hopes toward the working group, is gravely disillusioned by the endorsement of Zheng’s speech at a party meeting and the offer of remarriage. Vaguely conscious of her isolation, she decides nevertheless to find a way out for herself.
Xiuyun has always been highly sympathetic to Jin Dongshui, who first lost his position to Zheng, then his house to arson and finally his wife. Of the two children left behind by her eldest sister, Xiuyun has been taking care of Chang Xiu, who is only two years of age. Xiuyun, because of her caring for Jin Dongshui and his two children out of sympathy, arouses malicious suspicions of adultery with Jin, causing embarrassment to her father, who decides to tale care of Chang Xiu himself and forbid all contact between Jin and the family. To make it possible for Jin to attend her father’s birthday celebration with a view towards reconciliation, Xiuyun goes to the bazaar to buy birthday gifts with her own money on behalf of Jin. Under the gaze of Zheng, Xiuyun leads the two children calmly into the bazaar. Although Jin later takes away the children to avoid embarrassment and thus causing her great pain, her hopes still live on. The rumor of the incident spreads like wild fire all over Huluba, again plunging her into dire straits. At a meeting, Zheng Baixiu, sisiter of Zheng Bairu, nicknamed “rumormonger,” slanders her publicly. While deeply pained by the incident, it suddenly dawns on Xiuyun that the love for Jin Dongshui and his children is now the sole anchor of her life.
Accidently hearing the conversation between Zheng Bairu and Qi Mingjiang talking about collecting evidence against Jin Dongshui to further incriminate him, Xiuyun forgets the pain and makes an important decision: she shall reveal Zheng’s scheme in public to protect her family. At the same time, Yan, on the basis of solid work, decides to propose Jin Dongshui’s rehabilitation and restoration to his former position to senior CPC leaders. Long Qing, Jin’s former deputy, decides to arrange a matchup for Jin with another woman. Again, accidently hearing the conversation between Jin and Long, Xiuyun loses all hope and throws herself into the river. Fortunately Jin appears in time to save her life.
While Xiuyun is on her way to Jin Dongshui’s home, Xu Zhen, the seventh daughter, comes to Xiuyun’s house at the request of the father. Zheng Bairu, frightened by the prospect of being sent for re-education by the working group, again sneaks into Xiuyun’s bedroom to beg his ex-wife for her forgiveness. Xu Zhen, resting in her sister’s bed, cries out for help. Xu Mao arrives on the scene and finally learns the whole truth. He now has a clear idea where justice lies and feels regret for his misunderstanding of Xiuyun and Jin Dongshui.
Xu Mao finally recovers from his winter-long ailment. On the eve of his birthday, he assembles the family and distributes his savings in nine equal portions to his remaining eight daughters and Jin Dongshui. Yan Shaochun seizes the occasion and proposes marriage between Jin and Xiuyun. Xu Mao consents in silence. While Jin leads the local populace in building up the irrigation system, the working group suddenly receives orders to depart, signaling uncertainty ahead. At the farewell party for Yan, Xiuyun says confidently that she will stick with the family through thick and thin against all adversities. Yan also says confidently that the party sub-committee at Huluba is strong enough to withstand any adversities and that the future is bound to be bright.
A series of activities to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Mongolia officially opened in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia, on September 10, 2019.