COMMENDABLESnA Fragile Blossomnby W. Brent ChristensennFeng Jicai: Chrysanthemums andnOther Stories; Harcourt Brace Jovanovich;nSan Diego; $19.95.nFeng Jicai’s volume of short stories isntruly a remarkable work. It is one of thenfirst publications by a writer in thenPeople’s Republic of China in whichnthe writer has allowed people to benpeople. The reader does not find thenstereotypical characters of proletariannliterature in Feng’s stories; instead,nthese tales are filled with believablencharacters living lives of quiet desperation.nThough uneven in quality andndevelopment, Feng’s writing is infusednwith a light humor and gentle satire.nThis is extraordinarily candid writingnfor modern China, but one can still seenthe restraint of a writer in a totalitariannstate.nIn the Yan’an Forum of 1942, Maonset forth the guidelines for China’s revolutionarynliterature, and after the “liberation”nof the Chinese Mainland inn1949, literature was carefully controlled.nMao declared that there werenonly two kinds of human nature—thatnof the proletarian and that of the bourgeoisie.nThe result was the virtual disappearancenof literature for the next 30nyears. All of the great modern Chinesenwriters—including Ba Jin, Shen Cungwen,nand Cwo Moro—were silenced.nFrom this silence have emerged a fewncourageous voices. Feng writes, “Therenare basic factors in nature that go beyondncultural differences, or class differences.nWhile people exist in a socialnsituation, they exist there in all thencomplexity of nature, which if we are tonbe realistic, we cannot minimize.”nFeng peoples his world with haplessnvictims of the society in which theynlive. In “The Mao Button,” we meet anfoolish little man seeking status in an”classless” world by having the biggestnMao button of all. In “Chrysanthemums”nan artist discovers the meaningnof friendship and the grace of beautynonly after the strong tides of Chinesenpolitics have crushed his pride andnBOOKSHELVESndriven him to the edge of despair. Butnthe most gripping of the stories is “AnLetter,” a realistic study of the anxietynand paranoia of a weak-willed historiannwho loses an indiscreet letter and isnpolitically betrayed.nDespite dark pictures of lives in uncertaintynand turmoil, Feng injects ansubtle humor into his writing. His storyn”Numbskull” depicts an amusing encounternbetween a radio repairman innsearch of a bigger apartment and anwheeling-dealing black marketeer.nEven the bleaker stories have glimpsesnof humor—a zealous informant reportingnsomeone to the Party for garglingnwith hot water or an over-anxiousnlover hilariously misreading hisncorrespondence.nIt is essential to understand the precariousnposition from which Feng isnwriting. The literary climate in Chinanhas alternated back and forth: the pendulumnswings between periods of relativencreative freedom and periods ofncrushing brutality and ideological rigidity.nChina is currently allowing a measurenof outspokenness, though significantnrestrictions remain. The tension isnreflected in “Plum Blossoms in thenSnow,” a story that implies that evennthough there was terrible suffering innthe Cultural Revolution (now publiclyncriticized by government officials),nthings are all right now. A differentnperspective is found in the stories ofnChen Jo-hsi, a writer who lived throughnthe Cultural Revolution and escaped tonthe West to write about it. Her fictionnmakes it clear that the Cultural Revolutionnwas consistent with the politicalnsystem which produced it. Writing fromnwithin the system, Feng cannot makensuch a connection.nFeng does make a few oblique stabs atnthe system itself, though. In “A Letter,”nhe offers a daring description of annoppressive political officer: “People likenhim were bred by an abnormal society,nand they in turn contributed to itsnmalaise.” But then he blunts his pointnby adding, “In those years when worknwas not valued, his kind proliferated.”nIn another story, Feng satirizes the hypocrisynof a mayor who ceremoniallynsweeps the streets of his city, but againnhe fails to direct his criticism at thenregime itselfnnnSome of the stories in this collectionndo lack substance and thematic force:n”Winding Brook Way” treats the problemnof pollution with predictable sentimentality,nwhile “Nectar” and “AnStreet Sweeping Show” wander aimlesslynabout. However, the strongernstories glow with the talent of a developingnwriter, and the human qualities ofnthe characters transcend the narrowlyndefined classes required of communistnliterature. Susan Wilf Chen’s translationnis excellent, faithful to the tone ofnFeng’s writing. The reader can onlynhope that the political climate willnallow this important Chinese writer tonwrite more of the true experiences andnfeelings of his people. ccnW. Brent Christensen is a captain innthe U.S. Air Force and a graduatenstudent in East Asian studies atnGeorge Washington University.nFathoming Seasnof RednYearbook on International CommunistnAffairs, 1985: Parties and RevolutionarynMovements, edited by RichardnF. Staar, Stanford, CA: HoovernInstitution Press.nUnlike the world of democratic politicsnwith its ever-present television camerasnand investigative reporters, the world ofncommunism is a realm of mysteries andnshadows, understood by few who do notnactually hold power. Richard Staar andnthe 79 regional specialists who havencontributed to this encyclopedic volumenhave performed an invaluablenpublic service by sifting through thenavailable documents and reports to givenreaders a country-by-country assessmentnof the people and policies currentlynguiding the communist world. Annexcellent biography and tables of keynofficers and organizations make this annespecially useful reference work. Takenntogether, the yearbook presents a depressingnpanorama of tyranny and repression,neconomic coflapse and foodnshortages, intrigue and infighting. Yetnhere and there signs of hope persist:nMAY 1986/35n