One of the most influential and popular modern Chinese writers, Ba Jin critiqued the harsh realities of feudal China, which he saw as oppressing and destroying the individual. Being a life-long anarchist, he advocated change through revolutionary means.
Considered one of the most influential Chinese writers of the last century, Ba Jin was born in Chengdu, Sichuan Province. His birth name was Li Yaotang. Ba Jin is a pseudonym he adopted when he began to write. It is thought that his pen name comes from two Russian anarchist writers, Mikhail Bakunin and Pyotr Kropotkin, who greatly influenced him in his early years. Another explanation suggests that the name is the initials of a friend who committed suicide.
Ba Jin was born into a large and influential family of court officials. His early education was spent studying English, at which time he became a voracious reader and eventually found great affinity with anarchist writers such as Bakunin, Kropotkin, and Emma Goldman. At the age of sixteen, he joined a group of anarchists. Perhaps the appeal for radical politics came from his hatred of his own family life, which he found to be tradition-bound and oppressive. In 1923 he entered Dongnan University in Nanjing, where he further pursued his anarchist aspirations, organizing strikes and writing pamphlets.
After graduating in 1927, he left for Paris, where he began to pursue an active literary career. During his year in France, he wrote his first novel, Destruction, and translated many anarchist works into Chinese. He returned to China in 1928, took up residence in Shanghai, and began to write in earnest. In 1933 he published Family, a novel in which he showed the cruelties of a repressive family bound to feudal conventions. This was the first entry of a trilogy known as the Torrents Trilogy. The other two novels were Spring (1938) and Autumn (1940). Other notable novels by Ba Jin from the 1930s include the Love Trilogy: Fog (1931), Rain (1933), and Lightning (1935); Autumn in Spring (1932); A Dream of the Sea (1932); and Miners (1933). During the 1930s, he continuously wrote essays, which were published in various important literary journals, and undertook translations. The main themes of his writing were the cruelty of an effete traditional society and the promise of modernity. Thus Ba Jin’s writings became an essential part of what would become contemporary China.
During World War II, Ba Jin worked actively against the Japanese invaders, and when the Communists took control after the war, he welcomed them enthusiastically. However, this zeal was short lived when he and his activities were seen as suspect. During the Cultural Revolution, Ba Jin was labeled a subversive, and his writings and ideas were suppressed. These were difficult and painful times for him. In 1972 he lost his wife to illness because medical treatment was denied them both. It was only in 1977 that he was rehabilitated and his writing was again allowed to be printed.
In 1981 he was elected chairman of the Chinese Writers Association, during which time he actively advocated freedom for writers and even proposed a museum dedicated to the Cultural Revolution to ensure that such an event would never happen again. His suffering during this time is chronicled in his five-volume work titled Random Thoughts. In 1990 he was given the Fukuoka Asian Culture Prize. Ba Jin died in Shanghai in 2005 at the age 100 or 101.
Ba Jin and The Family
Ba’s trilogy focuses on the ills of traditional Chinese society and the old family system. It is the longest and most ambitious piece of modern Chinese fiction before World War II. Ba Jin admitted that he drew upon family life he knew during his adolescent years in Chengdu for his novel.
The Family is a true story, in that its characters represent people I loved or loathed. Some of the events I personally witnessed or experienced. As I said previously: “I don’t write novels in order to be an author. It is my past that force me to take up my pen.” Writing The Family was like opening memory’s grave. Even as a child I frequently witnessed the ruination of the lives of loveable young people who were driven to a tragic end. When writing this novel, I suffered with them and, like them, struggled in the grip of a demon’s talons. It is replete with my deep love, my intense hate.
Source: Wong Yoon Wah.. (1988). Essays on Chinese literature: A comparative approach. Singapore: Singapore University Press, 104.
Source: Dass, Nirmal (2009). BA Jin. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 135–136. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.
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