Red Peonies: Two Novellas of China
- About the Book
Red Peonies: Two Novellas of China is the first translation in English of two of the books written by Zhang Yihe about women she met and befriended in prison. The subjects of her stories have been described as “beautiful women who wielded magic power over men. They were like jealous evil spirits, vengeful treacherous persons—countless snakes coiled around other people.”
Zhang Yihe was fifteen in 1957, the year her father was declared an enemy of the People’s Republic of China. Denounced as the nation’s Number One Rightist, he was persecuted by Chairman Mao. Zhang herself was arrested at age twenty-eight and sentenced to twenty-one years in a remote labor prison. While in the women’s prison, she came to know the other inmates, most of whom were from farms and lacked education. In 2011, at age seventy, she began to write and publish her fictionalized accounts of some of the women. The novellas were quickly censored in China, but have become widely popular in pirated, unexpurgated editions in the PRC, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Zhang Yihe is now an outspoken advocate of free expression.
Red Peonies contains the first two novellas in Zhang’s projected series of ten. Never before translated into English, the works are powerfully written, tender, and sorrowful. They bring to life the stories of Chinese women caught in the turmoil of the Cultural Revolution. This volume includes the work of Xing Danwen, an internationally known artist based in Beijing.
- Born in 1942 in Chongqing, Sichuan, Zhang Yihe was the daughter of Zhang Bojun, a high official in the Chinese Communist Party who was purged in 1957, during the PRC’s Anti-Rightist Campaign, and labeled a public enemy. Three years later, Zhang Yihe entered the National Academy of Chinese Theater Arts, but in 1963, she was sent down to a Sichuanese opera troupe, far from Beijing, for offending Mao Zedong’s powerful wife. For this offense and the fact of being the daughter of “China’s Number One Rightist,” Zhang Yihe was convicted in 1970 of counterrevolutionary activities and sentenced to twenty years in prison. In 1979, she was cleared and allowed to return to Beijing, where she joined the Chinese National Opera Academy and eventually became a professor of theatre arts. She retired in 2001 and started writing memoirs of people who lived during the era of Mao and the Cultural Revolution. In 2004, she received the International PEN Award for Independent Chinese Writing.
- Frank Stewart has been editor of Mānoa: A Pacific Journal of International Writing since its founding in 1989. He has published a dozen books of his own, including translations, poetry, and essays.
- Karen Gernant is professor emeritus of Chinese history at Southern Oregon University.
- Chen Zeping is professor in Chinese linguistics at Fujian Normal University.