Ripple on Stagnant Water
A Novel of Sichuan in the Age of Treaty Ports
Translated with an Introduction by Bret Sparling
and Yin Chi
2014, 338 pages
ISBN 978-1-937385-24-8 Paper $25.00
ISBN 978-1-937385-25-5 Cloth $65.00
In the small market town of Heaven's Turn on the Chengdu Plain, a simple-minded shopkeeper has married a beautiful village girl who is determined to rise above her station.
Li Jieren's novel is populated with gangsters, prostitutes, farmers, dilettantes, bureaucrats and Christian converts, all drawn from the author's familiar acquaintance. While giving an incomparably vivid account of the lives of commoners, it illuminates a complex balance of power at the end of the last dynasty, when Western powers were clashing with imperial troops in far-off Peking, and the underground fraternities of this provincial backwater were chafing at the activities of foreign missionaries. Its relevance extends beyond the Qing dynasty and beyond China, to anywhere that cultures collide or people dream of better lives.
Li Jieren brought to this portrayal of his native province the expertise of a local, the critical eye of a foreigner, and the sympathetic wit of a humanist. He has long been under-appreciated, in part because he mixed colloquial Sichuanese with literary Mandarin, and in part because his work is too uncompromising to fit easily into any ideological mold.
This translation, based on the original 1935 edition, includes recent interviews with four residents of Heaven's Turn, giving modern perspectives on the town where the story takes place.
Li Jieren (1891- 1962) Born in Chengdu, Sichuan, to an intellectual family of small means, Li Jieren became one of the most admired translators, editors, and writers of the May Fourth generation. His panoramic trilogy of pre-revolutionary Sichuan is widely considered China's most accomplished work of naturalist fiction. He spent five years in France (1919-1924), and wrote the first Chinese translations of much of the French literary canon.
Bret Sparling has spent ten years in cities and villages of China.
Yin Chi is a former judge of the Chengdu Intermediate Court.