Chi Zijian, of Haiyang in the province of Shandong, was born in February, 1964 in Mohe County, Heilongjiang. She graduated with a postgraduate degree from Beijing Normal University in 1990, having previously studied creative writing at Northwest University, beginning in 1984. She was a member of the China Writers Association 6th and 7th committees, and is the serving chairwoman of the Heilongjiang Writers Association. Beginning her writing in 1983, Chi has penned such novels as The Right Bank of the Ergun River, White Snow Black Crows and Peak Among the Mountains, and shorter works such as All the Nights in the World. She is a three-time winner of the “Lu Xun Literature Award”, a two-time winner of the “Bing Xin Essay Award” and a recipient of such accolades as the “Mao Dun Literature Prize”,“the Suspended Sentence Fellowship” — a trilateral residency scheme organized by Ireland, China and Australia. A portion of her works has been published abroad, in such countries as the United Kingdom, France, Japan and Italy.
Chi’s early works had a certain free and natural beauty to them. With the passing of time, her writing — still just as beautiful — has come to contain so much more: forceful and imbued with the vicissitudes of life. Whether innovatory and insightful, vast and powerful, or full of twists and turns, Chi’s novels all share one common thread: a sentiment of love and warmth. With a creativity described by novelist Su Tong as “unchanging over 20 years”, Chi produces work at a pace that is never rushed nor slowed, as she treads her own path in search of beauty and love.
The Right Bank of the Ergun River is a novel describing the Ewenki ethnic minority of China’s northeast as they strove for survival over the centuries. In the book, Chi recounts the ethnic people’s tumultuous, moving story through another woman: wife of the last tribal chief. Their lives wholly reliant on reindeer, the Ewenki people emigrated many centuries ago from Lake Baikal to the eastern bank of the Ergun River. They reaped the offerings of the natural world, just as they weathered bitter cold and suffered disasters of pestilence. During the Japanese invasion, they were trampled upon all over. Yet imbued with the strength and resilience of their ethnicity’s spirit, they went to war with fate itself. Chi’s book is a documentation of the life-and-death legend of the entire Ewenki people.
In the introduction of All the Nights in the World, Chi wrote: “I want to smear my face thick with mud, so no-one can see my grief”. The novel recounts the independent travelling of its female protagonist following the death of her husband in a car crash, and the suffering and injustice she bears witness to. Night on earth is both one person’s night and everyone’s night. The novella is a work of “blood and tears”.
White Snow Black Crows, set in 1910-1911 during an outbreak of the plague, tells the story of the lives of those in Fujia, an area on the outskirts of the city of Harbin. As a small urban area in the country’s northeast that experienced the Soviet-Japanese conflict, Fujia was home to Chinese, Russian and Japanese people, the cultures of which melded and permeated throughout daily life. With the sudden outbreak of plague, the city descended into an environment of shear terror. Under the looming shadow of death, love and hatred that had previously been harboured in secrecy rose to the surface. City dwellers were bursting with the power of life.
After two years in the making, Chi published the novel Peak Among the Mountains in 2015. The book revolves around the tumultuous lives of the residents of Longzhan Town, perched among the peaks of a mountain range in China’s northern territories. The story focuses on those who live in the Mount Song area, in the country’s vast borderlands. Peak Among the Mountains begins with a rape and murder case that leaves the whole town reeling, and culminates with the offender’s execution. With this event at its core, the novel relates the family histories of three households — Xin, An and Tang — as they weather the waves of passing eras, and paints a picture of how ordinary people, walking towards unknown fates, find a way out towards a life of dignity.
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