Shen Congwen and Huang Yongyu: A comparative record

Author: LV Xintong Institution: School of Literature, Minzu University of China

“No worry River” is actually no injury river, located in Hunan Xiangxi Tujia Miao Autonomous Prefecture Fenghuang County Changtan Gang. In the past hundred years, many historical celebrities have been born in Xiangxi, the most influential in the literary and art circles should belong to Shen Congwen and Huang Yongyu.

In 1924, seven years after Shen Yuehuan, a small soldier in Hunan Province, left home and joined the army at the age of fifteen, he renamed himself “Cong Wen”, ended his military career in the Yuanjiang River valley, and went to Beijing alone, working hard in the “narrow and muggy small Zhai” to earn money to survive the northern winter. His submissions were repeatedly rejected, and it was not until the following spring that his first story, “In the Apartment,” appeared in the newspaper. In the same year, in Changde, Hunan Province, Shen Congwen’s cousin Huang Yushu’s first child was born, the infant with his parents returned to their hometown Fenghuang, halfway encountered robbers, his parents hid him in a tree hole and survived. The child, originally named Huang Yongyu, grew up in Fenghuang until he was 12 years old, and then went to the southeast coastal area to study and wander. Many years later, his cousin Shen Congwen suggested that he change “Yu” to “jade” and take the meaning of “bright and transparent forever.” This lively rebellious young man interrupted his studies during the Anti-Japanese War, drifted all the way, did several jobs, and found himself in danger many times. In the mid-late 1940s, he finally emerged in the literary and art world as a young woodcarver. On June 13, 2023, Huang Yongyu, known as a “ghost”, left this world, leaving the world full of paintings, woodcuts and sculptures.

Although he is renowned at home and abroad for his fine art works, Huang Yongyu has repeatedly mentioned that he regards literature as his “primary career” and “the most beloved profession”. Huang Yongyu has learned a lot in poetry, prose, and essays. “Along the Seine to Florence” (1998) is warm and cozy, and “An Old Man Older than Me” (2003) is humorous and perceptively good. Since 2008, Huang Yongyu began to write an autobiographical novel “The Wanderer of the River without Worry”, and by the age of 99, he had a trilogy of “Zhuque City”, “Eight years” and “Walking” with a total of millions of words, which can be described as a masterpiece of “vast Tang Tang and boundless boundless”. In Huang Yongyu’s novels, we can see Faulkner’s literary geography construction centered on his hometown, Proustian’s writing practice of combining memories into a long history, and Shen Congwen’s “love, pity and gratitude” for the customs and customs of western Hunan, which are Shen Congwen’s message to Huang Yongyu and the three words Huang Yongyu wants to engrave on his tombstone. It can be said that Shen Congwen and Huang Yongyu have each composed a long life of “beautiful, healthy and natural, but not inconsistent with the form of human nature” (Shen Congwen: “Anthology of Studies”), which not only spans the lyric practice of art categories, but also full of long-term concern and attachment to the scenery and people of their hometown.

From “The Ability of a Legend” to “The Swingers of the No Worry River.”

Shen Congwen’s essay “The Ability of a Legend” (1947) and Huang Yongyu’s “Swingers of the River Without Sorrow: Zhuque City” (2008) tell the same story from different perspectives – the love of Huang Yushu and Yang Guanghui, Huang Yongyu’s parents, and their ups and downs in the tide of the old times. The two works blend the family history of the Huang family with the local Chronicles of western Hunan, an attempt to record the experience of the hometown and the experience of The Times with the thinking of the hometown, a reflection of Shen Congwen and Huang Yongyu on the fate of the small local intellectuals who have “left”, and a literary dialogue spanning 60 years.

The Ability of a Legend, published in 1947, is a long reminiscence essay written after Shen Congwen began to communicate with Huang Yongyu. In this article, Shen Congwen describes his experience of “being unemployed and living in exile” with his cousin Huang Yushu in Changde in the early 1920s, and talks about what he saw and felt when he met his cousin in Changsha during the Anti-Japanese War in 1937, from which he gives some reflections on the “筸 army” and the future development direction of Xiangxi. This essay of more than 20,000 words continues the concerns of Xiang Xing Prose and Xiangxi on local issues and hometown people, with the historical changes of Xiangxi as the background and the twists and turns of the fate of Huang Yongyu’s parents. From the small cut of the Huang family into the modern historical experience of western Hunan, “the use of color lines is only three or five, because of repeated and intricate, but formed the effect of Tujia square brocade” (Shen Congwen: “The ability of a Legend · Note”), in the spread of dots and dots style of writing contains the author’s “hope in the future” serious thinking.

Shen Congwen and Huang Yongyu: A comparative record Photo 2

Shen Congwen (left) and Huang Yongyu pose for a photo in Peking University teachers’ dormitory in 1950.

Huang Yushu graduated from the Fine arts department of Changde Normal School, once traveled with his father to see the world, his temperament is free and easy, immersed in the world of painting and calligraphy, music, there is a realism and romanticism “blend” of artistic talent. When Huang Yushu and Shen Congwen sojourned in Changde Inn, he met Yang Guanghui, who escaped from his old family and studied fine arts in Changde girls’ School, and two young people who love art met each other, “They became a fire and found a place of enthusiasm.” At that time, Huang Yushu asked Shen Congwen to “ghostwrite” and wrote several love letters to Yang Guanghui. After Huang and Yang fell in love and got married, they stayed in the small town of Phoenix, engaged in the basic education of music and art for a long time, and gave birth to five children. Their husband and wife respectively served as the principal of Phoenix boys and girls primary School, not only in the professional can be called “the county peer first-class talent”, but also uphold the concept of aesthetic education and enlightenment spirit of modern educators. Unfortunately, the good times did not last long, Huang Yushu lost his teaching job, in order to support his family, he had to leave his father, wife and children to write from the army, “put on a set of dragging old military uniforms”, “turn to a ship station in front of a long bad wave roaring beach” when the stationmaster, hard to make a living in the harsh environment, the pursuit of art has become an unimaginable luxury. Wait until the winter of 1937, due to the outbreak of the Anti-Japanese War, Shen Congwen left Beijing all the way south to Kunming, passing by Changsha met his cousin with a gauntlet and waxing yellow face, because of the unsatisfactory career, Huang Yushu is no longer the complacent of the year – “nature is becoming more and more unpredictable, the past bold and free has lost,” But the big black bright eyes under the bushy eyebrows were still as old, and they were still happy to sing.”

The change of Huang Yushu reminds people of Lu Xun’s short story “On the Restaurant”, the hero Lu Weifu, the revolutionary young generation in the “May Fourth” period has the spirit of innovation and creation, the energetic mood, desire and motivation formed, because they do not know how to play and slowly wear out. Shen Congwen is not so much writing about the family affairs of Huang Yongyu’s father, as he is writing about the other half of his contemporaries – the “May Fourth” generation of those hometown heroes who failed to go to a wider world “and the sad and desperate fate of interdependence with the small mountain city” (Huang Yongyu: “Scenery under the Sun”).

If Shen Congwen wrote the family history of the Huang family with a point to face, in the ordinary to see solemn writing, then Huang Yongyu wrote the family affairs is the sorrow hidden in the smile as light. The uncle and nephew are typical examples of writing as people: Shen’s smile is faint, his lips are rippling, and behind his glasses there is a wise and reserved light, so is the article; Huang Yongyu’s article is like his self-portrait in his later years, the appearance of the “old urchin” seems to jump out from between the pages, pucking up a happy face, showing two rows of teeth laughing, and behind the smile is the philosophy of understanding life.

Shen Congwen and Huang Yongyu: A comparative record Photo 4

Shen Congwen (right) and Huang Yongyu at Fenghuang Wenchangge Primary School in Hunan Province in 1982. File picture

Zhuque City is the first book of Huang Yongyu’s autobiographical novel series “No Worry River”. The author incarnates a child with the name “Zhang Xuzi” and the nickname “Dog”, describing his childhood in Zhuque City (Phoenix) from two to twelve years old. There are two narrative voices floating inside the story: one is the naive childish voice, and the other is the reflexive eyes recalling the past at the age of 80. It is commendable that the author does not examine and judge the young self as an elder, but retains a lively and witty, only when talking about the experience of his parents, in addition to the warm childhood memories revealed a little sadness.

In Zhuque City, Huang Yongyu describes Zhang Xuzi’s father as Youlin and mother as Liu Hui, “a gentle, a radical, and the difference in character is very large.” In his memory, his father was a folk artist full of interest in life when he was young, but also a generous and patient modern educator who was good at discovering the advantages of children and teaching them according to their aptitude. In his spare time, he likes to draw and sketch and play the organ. “When he presses his hand, he can’t stop running and is almost involved in a sudden flood stream.” “His chest is out and his neck is bright, he leans forward and back, and his two bellows pedal swing his passion like running.” Her mother Liu Hui is an extraordinary modern new knowledge woman. She is brave and enthusiastic, resisting arranged marriage, working conscientiously as the principal of the women’s School, showing the courage and determination of practical work. She is the first person in Phoenix to cut short hair and lead female students to wear skirts, and has joined the revolutionary team and physically broke feudal superstition. When the husband lost his job, he took on the responsibility of raising five children.

Shen Congwen and Huang Yongyu: A comparative record Photo 6

From the narrator’s point of view, we can very clearly perceive how the financial burdens of the family and the poor cultural environment of the family wear down two talented and educated young people. Liu Hui (that is, Yang Guanghui), the mother who once took Qiu Jin as a model of “Jianhu woman”, “wasted a very promising value in a warm and busy life”, and used the story of the seven fairies trapped in the world as a metaphor for the dilemma that she could not continue to struggle for the revolutionary cause. His father Zhang Youlin (that is, Huang Yushu) has a high artistic talent, but there is no suitable environment for artistic creation, he brought back the scattered staff pieces from the normal school, “Bach, Beethoven, Liszt, Chopin… He is the only person in the city who knows how to cherish these things “, and he closely watched the music as if “to find an old dog that has been separated for many years.” The narrator lamented that his father should not “take this pair of valuable hands back to Suzaku”, because of the lack of the necessary audience, market and environment, he can only “like a meteorite from the sky” alone in the “castration cage” of Suzaku City.

Shen Congwen and Huang Yongyu: A comparative record Photo 8

When Huang Yushu was the principal of Wenchangge Primary School, he followed CAI Yuanpei’s idea of “aesthetic education” and drove subject education with love and art and music education, making the primary school “ripples the sound of string songs” and laying the foundation for students’ all-round development. This proposition coincides with Shen Congwen’s viewpoint of “re-establishing national morality in a poetic way” when he wrote Border Town · Inscription in 1934. In the 1930s, Shen Congwen tried to express this ideal implicitly by means of lyrical images and stories, sometimes with explanations in the epigraph or epilogue of the novel. After the 1940s, Shen Congwen changed from “storytelling” to “discussion”. Through a series of articles such as “Reconstruction of Literary Movement”, “Reconstruction of Literary Movement” and “Learning from Reality”, he formally proposed the cultural and political conception of rebuilding national morality with the “beauty power of literature”, opposed the utilitarianism and commercialization of literature and art, and expected to “cast a broad, solid and lively personality… So that the value of literary works from ordinary propaganda materials into a century-old national classics “(Shen Congwen:” The reconstruction of Literary movement “). Obviously, Shen Congwen, Huang Yushu and Yang Guanghui, as a generation of educated young people in western Hunan who grew up under the influence of the May Fourth Movement, are on the extension line of the enlightenment thought of the new cultural movement to transform the national character. In Beijing, Shanghai and Kunming, Shen Congwen tried to construct the vision of social life through the writing of “literary new classics”. In Shancheng Primary School in Fenghuang, Hunan Province, Huang and Yang are personally involved in the basic education and aesthetic education of the next generation. When Shen Congwen looked back at the life of his cousin who died young, he saw two young people who lived in a Changde hotel more than 20 years ago. They were equally talented in literature and art, but they turned into very different life journeys, and it was a moment’s choice that moved all of them.

Interdomain practice of “lyricism” : Woodcut, Literature, and Material Culture History

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Shen Congwen’s conception of aesthetic education culture shifted from the creation of literary new classics to the study of art history and material history. This transition from writer to scholar is not accidental. As Wang Zengqi and Shi Zhecun have said, Shen Congwen’s interest in cultural relics has shown signs earlier, even earlier than his interest in literature. When he was a secretary in the army at the age of 18, he was responsible for the preservation of calligraphy and painting, steles, and after arriving in Beijing at the age of 22, he often lingered in Liulichang and other places, like collecting “flowers and flowers, bottles and cans.” In 1947, when Shen Congwen discovered Huang Yongyu’s woodcarving ability, it was the precursor period for him to turn from literature to cultural relics research. It can be said that the younger Huang Yongyu’s ability to manage visual art has infected Shen Congwen, reminding him of his unrealized dream of being a painter. Nearly 70 years later, Shen’s literary achievements inspired Huang Yongyu to enter the paradise of literature at a ripe old age. From woodcarving to literature, from writing to material history research, the two generations have been carrying out cross-domain practice in the multiple territories of “lyricism”.

In the mid and late 1940s, Huang Yongyu received attention in the literary and art circles as a young woodcarver. He inherited his parents’ free and easy and kind personality traits, coexisting with bold and fine, and has a humorous lyric charm. Compared with the woodcutters of the same period, Huang Yongyu’s works have a special mood, depicting the simplicity of the country and the innocence of children, “this simplicity is almost like a taste of alcohol, and there is no sadness and melancholy shadow given by life” (Zang Kejia: Yongyu Man and His Woodcuts), “The innocence filtered from the humble life represents the healthy peasant soul in the western Hunan Plain” (Xiao Qian: Yongyu belongs to the Light). In 1947, after returning to Beijing from Kunming, Shen Congwen came across Huang Yongyu’s woodcuts by chance and spoke highly of them: “Full of a bold mix of naivety and enthusiasm, it gave me a new impression, not only to see the wisdom and enthusiasm in the author’s mind, but also to discover how the combination of these two forms a poetic lyric.”

In August 1949, Shen Congwen wrote to Huang Yongyu, urging him to return to Beijing from Hong Kong to devote himself to the cultural construction of New China, believing that in all the ruins and prosperity of the state, there is a lot of work to be done in sculpture, painting and other aspects. At this time, Shen was ready to carry out research on the history of art, especially focusing on the arts and crafts such as lacquer ware, silk weaving, and tools, because this is the “people’s art history” that has been deposited in the long historical process, and it is “the first lesson to learn to get closer to the people”, but it is a pity that his “hands are not worthy of knowledge and understanding”, and he cannot really devote himself to the creation of art. Just Huang Yongyu is having such a pair of “hands that can be engraved and painted”, so he has become the “key training object” of his cousin. From 1947 to 1953, Shen Congwen and Huang Yongyu have maintained correspondence, most of the letters have been lost, but one of the “Style of Chinese Sculpture” written in August 1947 has been rediscovered in recent years, which shows Shen Congwen’s enthusiasm for Huang Yongyu’s printmaking career at that time.

Shen Congwen takes “modern woodcuts should be classical works” as the theme, talking about ancient Chinese woodcuts, stone carvings, relief, porcelain, bronze, painted pottery and Chinese painting, etc., are the objects that modern printmaking can learn from. For example, the Song and Ming stone carvings are distributed in the spatial layout, with trees, stones, flowers and birds interspersed among them. Han stone carvings pay attention to the contrast between black and white, the lines are simple and powerful, strong and charming; Painted pottery products mix and overlap a variety of hazy colors, with the meaning of life flow; Song Dynasty literati painting “small at hand to make thousands of miles of scenery, absorb the river sea tower view, but also write family life on the coast boat”… All these contain the enthusiasm and fantasy of folk art, which can be “re-integrated into a new expression” by taking its strengths from the aspects of composition, line, color, content, etc. (Shen Congwen, “The Style of Chinese Sculpture – A Letter to Yongyu”). It can be seen from this letter that in the late 1940s, Shen Congwen’s interest in visual arts and cultural relics research had been fully demonstrated, and what he sought in art history was a kind of poetic lyricism that was fused into folk life.

Shen Congwen mentioned in the introduction of “Research on Ancient Chinese Costumes” that “this job may still have something in common with the literary creation methods and attitudes that I engaged in in the first half of my life”, “it is also very ‘literary'”, “I write them like novels”. Literary writing and cultural relics research intertwine and reflect each other in Shen Congwen’s life, which are two different ways to practice his aesthetic concept. Hidden behind the duality of writer and scholar identity is the consistent theme of “lyricism” and his concern for ordinary people’s life. After devoting himself to the study of the history of material culture, Shen Congwen focused on the “great achievements of arts and crafts truly created by thousands of working people collectively” (Song Boyin: “On Shen Congwen’s Historical Relics Research Law”), which had been neglected for a long time and was not the subject of literati calligraphy and painting. In the article on Southwest Lacquers and Others (March 1949), he emphasized that he was most interested in the “heart of the maker” embodied in the arts and crafts, and how the hard work, desire and enthusiasm were integrated into the details of the craft, which contained various forms of “life struggle.”

Shen Congwen’s research on material culture history follows the academic historical view of “sentient micro history” and the methodology of “mutual evidence of material history”, emphasizing material materials. On the way back to his hometown to visit his relatives in 1934, Shen Congwen for the first time re-examined the life of Xiangxi people from the perspective of the outside world after more than ten years away from his hometown, and realized for the first time that history is an endless river, which is “the sorrow and joy of several generations of human beings that we have neglected in ordinary times” (Shen Congwen: “History is a River”), thus writing important works such as “Border Town” and “The Long River”. The study of its material history is also concerned with the microscopic historical details ignored by predecessors or not recorded in historical books, combining with the collection and collation of massive data in philology and archaeology, the physical materials are “through the eyes”, “up and down, back and forth” before the conclusion can be reached. In September 1981, Shen Congwen’s research on Ancient Chinese Costumes, the result of his painstaking research for 20 years, was published. The book not only compiled the official dress styles and aristocratic costumes of the past dynasties, but also collected a large number of folk life materials, such as the small utensils made by silversmiths and carpenters, the short clothes worn by ordinary farmers and traders, and the casual clothes of servants. Based on this, we can reconstruct the daily life and emotional family life of the people of all ethnic groups in ancient times, and explore the development and evolution of the dress system of different times and different classes and its various relations with social material life. This study of folk labor, wisdom and pluralistic beauty is summed up by Wang as “lyric archaeology”, which is a comprehensive practice based on the researchers’ full understanding of empathy for the subjects.

The country dream never rest

Huang Yongyu once said: “Our little mountain town, for whatever reason, often makes the children have the illusion of going to another country and giving their lives… So that at the age of 12 or 13, my cousin and I carried small bundles along the river and crossed the Dongting to ‘read another big book.'” (Huang Yongyu: “Scenery under the Sun”) When they “read the big book”, the emotional resources they rely on are still from the mountains and rivers of their hometown. “Hometown is the most concrete expression of the motherland in terms of concept and emotion” (Huang Yongyu: “Village Dream Never Rest”), for Shen Congwen and Huang Yongyu, hometown experience is the core component of emotional structure, precipitated into the shared experience of different generations. It is in the process of writing “the village dream never rest” that Huang Yongyu’s trilogy of “The Wandering Man of No Worry River” not only completes the spiritual Odyssey, but also realizes a cross-time and space dialogue with Shen Congwen. On the whole, the trilogy takes the hometown thinking as the narrative driving mechanism, the diversified sensory expression, the localization of language, the openness of novel structure and other features can be seen from Huang Yongyu’s inheritance of Shen Congwen’s literary lineage, as well as his breakthrough and attempt to transcend this “anxiety of influence”.

Among Shen Congwen’s novels, Huang Yongyu likes the “stretch” and “intimate heart” in The Long River most. He said: “I am deeply attracted to the Long River by the new changes brewing in the style of Uncle Wen. He excluded carefully selected characters and plots. He wrote novels not only for educated provincials and connoisseurs of words and style, but even for his clever students. I found that this is the first intimate book he talked with the old people in his hometown by candlelight. An important start.” (Huang Yongyu: “These Melancholy Crumbs”) In Huang Yongyu’s opinion, this is a “book most like Xiangxi people”, should be rolled out into a “war and peace” like a long historical volume. In fact, this is precisely the writing idea of “Ten Cities” that Shen Congwen began to incubate when he went south to Kunming in 1938. Through the Long River, The Chronicle of Yunlu, Xiaozhai and other short stories, Shen Congwen became a literary corridor to write the history of western Hunan during the Anti-Japanese War. This writing plan was not realized for various reasons, but Huang Yongyu’s works continued after 70 years. Whether it is the childhood events in western Hunan in Zhuque City, or the wandering experiences in Eight Years and Walking Reading, Huang Yongyu adopts a diachronic sequential narrative and synchronic biographies. He neither selects characters carefully nor uses the language disciplined by modern knowledge, but accommodates a variety of local dialects, a large number of colloquial slang and colloquial expressions in a disorganized structure. It connects personal life experience with the history of the country during the Anti-Japanese War in a daily and popular narrative way. What he has completed is just such a “intimate book” that “talks with readers by candlelight at night”.

In the series of “No Worry River”, we can also see the influence of the retrospective writing of childhood memories in “From Wen Autobiography” on Huang Yongyu – reading and skipping school, practicing martial arts and swimming, watching the “chopping head”, which constitute the common memories of two generations of Xiangxi people. It is worth noting the difference between the two authors’ writing time points. The Autobiography of Cong Wen was written in 1932, which is Shen Congwen, who was “thirty years old”, wrote the “coming and going” for his fledgling literary career. “No worry River” trilogy Huang Yongyu wrote in his later years, he started again with a young mentality, “with memories to the old stinking soul to wash a clean hot bath”, so he wrote more freely and freely. Huang Yongyu continued the diversified sensory expression, vision, hearing, smell, taste and touch at the same time, writing the personnel and scenery of his hometown. Similar to Shen Congwen, he does not shy away from the double sides of cruelty and warmth in his hometown experience, and often writes about the hidden pain of the old era in Qu style. For example, the narrator tells that Mr. Wei’s advice to students not to skip class to watch “chopping off skulls” is a combination of the “September 18” incident and respect for life to carry out a dual enlightenment of patriotic education and life education. Shi Zhecun describes Shen’s language as “blunt and primitive, simple and vulgar”, which is rich in reality, not the product of language training, but a recording of his early life experience – as is Huang Yongyu’s writing. Huang Yongyu’s writing style is common and noisy, and he uses free and indirect quotes to shuttle between the hearts of different characters. On the surface of the text, he is joking and scolding, but on the deep level, he is serious, ironic and witty, which can be said to have the charm of Rabelais’s Biography of Giants. The series of novels of “No Worry River” is a rolling writing method composed of short stories of different characters. Although there is no complete structure of head, body and tail, which is used in modern novels, there is a kind of linkage logic and literary atmosphere.

Shen Congwen and Huang Yongyu are both self-taught “miracle” characters. Under the differences in appearance and temperament, they have similar infirmity and tenacity in heart, as well as diligence and seriousness in work. Shen Congwen said in an interview: “I have been engaged in literary creation all my life, and I never know what is called ‘innovation’ and ‘breakthrough’, I only know ‘completion’… Overcome obstacles to ‘get it done.'” “Completion” is also a basic goal set by Huang Yongyu to write his autobiographical novels in his later years. Although he did not really finish the subsequent volumes as envisaged, he has fulfilled his promise to write continuously for the long volume of life.

Guangming Daily (Page 13, November 10, 2023)

Source: Guangming Net – Guangming Daily

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