Wreaths at the Foot of the Mountain makes new contributions to the socialization of military novels. When depicting military life, it combines in every way the military camps and the society, focusing on the connections as well as interactions between both parties. The novel has extensive influence because the general connections between the camps and the society and between reality and history. Its success, to a great degree, lies in its realness and courage to reveal the contradictions in the army. It shows the noble and great spirits of ordinary people, such as Liang Sanxi and his 70-year-old mother.
Liang Sanxi lived in extreme poverty, and silently gave up everything to the army. Before his death, however, he left no heroic utterance but a bloody debt bill. Having lost one son to the war and her husband and second son in the Cultural Revolution, Aunt Liang still sent her only son, Sanxi, to the army, and bore the family burden alone. In order to pay off Sanxi’s debt, Aunt Liang and Yuxiu, whilst holding three-month-old Panpan, walked all the way over the mountains. They did so to avoid having to spend money on bus tickets.
Their noble and holy spirits can tremble and purify the hearts of the readers.
The selfless and stern Army Commander Lei, set off by the Liang family, makes the novel more appealing. The novella depicts not only the heroic actions of the soldiers before the enemy, but also their rich and complicated emotional world. For example, Jin Kailai who had an abhorrence of sin and jealousy was also tenderhearted to advise Liang Sanxi home before the childbirth.
The novella had been long-planned, until Li Cunbao attended the symposium on military literary creation in Beijing in April 1982. After hearing the speech of the army leadership and the discussions of the colleagues, he got great inspiration on how to reflect the internal contradictions in the army. A list of characters came alive in his mind and he finished in one go Wreaths at the Foot of the Mountain. Mr. Feng Mu, a leading authority of contemporary literary criticism, was so moved by the novel. After reading the manuscript in one sitting he said, “This is really a good work full of lofty revolutionary emotions, which can sublime and purify the spirits of people. It practically investigates and represents the beautiful and precious spirits of our soldier heroes.”
Causing a sensation, the novella was printed repeatedly and translated for publication. It won many awards in the army and in the nation. It was also moved onto the movie screen, the TV screen, and the drama stages, achieving the 5th Golden Rooster Award for Best Writing. The movie was released in the United States, Japan, Italy, and Hong Kong and Taiwan.
Male writer Li Cunbao of Han nationality was born in Wulian in Shandong Province on February 19th, 1946. Li Cunbao enlisted into the army in 1964 and graduated from the Department of Literature at the PLA Academy of Art in 1986. He has successively served as a soldier, squadron leader, platoon leader, information officer, Production Director of the Art Troupe of Jinan Military Region, Chief of the art studio in the Political Department of Jinan Military Region, and Vice President of the PLA Academy of Art. He is a major general as well as professional writer. He is member of the National Committee of CPPCC, member of the 4th committee of China Writers Association, member of the National Committee of China Writers Association, member of the Military Literature Committee, and Vice President of China Reportage Association.
In 1986, Li Cunbao led the Chinese writer delegation to Japan. He was entitled to special government allowances. His novels have been translated into English, French, Japanese, Russian, and other languages for publication.
His novella Wreaths at the Foot of the Mountain and The Nineteen Tombs in the Mountain won the 2nd and 3rd National Best Novella Award respectively. His long reportage The Soul of the King and Nine Chapters about Yimeng (co-written by Wang Guangming) won the China Tide Prize and National Reportage Prize respectively. His prose I Speak for a Tiger Catcher won First Prize of Han Yu Cup Award and First Prize of Bayi New Work Award of the Army. His prose A Whale Died Young won the 6th October Literature Award. Dreams About the Big River won the 3rd Lu Xun Literature Prize and First Prize of the 2nd Han Yu Cup Award. Furthermore, the film script Wreaths at the Foot of the Mountain won the 5th Golden Rooster Film Award for Best Writing, and The Centennial House won the National Best Screenplay Award (Both have been filmed and released).
At the end of the 1970s, the soldiers in the 9th Company of a PLA unit in the southwest frontier of China were on a holiday weekend. The company commander Liang Sanxi was swimming in the river when the correspondent Jin Xiaozhu told him that his home leave had been approved. Then ews made him enormously happy. The next day, the newly-appointed instructor Zhao Mengsheng came to the company. He was in no mood to work since he had just come for a future transfer through connections. Liang Sanxi was concerned about the state of mind and working attitude of Zhao Mengsheng, and therefore he postponed the home tour. Feeling very annoyed after seeing this, the platoon leader Jin Kailai could not help but beat about the bush.
Liang Sanxi was reading his wife Yuxiu’s letter, with the memories started coming back. Last year, Yu Xiu came to see him in the company. As a kindhearted and hardworking woman, Yuxiu did everything at home in Shandong. In the camp, she was also busy washing for the soldiers and gaining respect from them. She and Sanxi had a pleasant time together.
Then, as the Sino-Vietnamese War started, the troops received the order to go to the front in Yunnan. Liang Sanxi gave up his home leave to join the battle. At this time, Zhao Mengsheng received the transfer order. Though always generous, Liang Sanxi harshly criticized him. Before departure, however, Liang Sanxi told Yuxiu their child should be named Panpan, meaning “expecting in hope”. Just before the battle, Jin Kailai was appointed the Deputy Company Commander. He declared to the whole company that he would try his best to do his duty.
Zhao Mengsheng’s mother Wu Shuang, the Deputy Health Minister of the Military Region, wanted to transfer her son via the Army Commander Lei. She called Lei in the front command, and that call made Lei furious. In the pre-war military meeting Lei said: At this critical moment a powerful noble woman called my command just to transfer her son to the back. I’d let her son rush in first onto the battlefield!
Zhao Mengsheng felt so ashamed that he swore to kill the enemy courageously.
The soldiers set out for the battlefield fearlessly. In the harsh environment, the hot weather made the soldiers seriously thirsty, dehydrated, and even light-headed. To sustain their energy for fighting, Jin Kailai went to the farmland to steal sugarcanes, but was sadly killed by a landmine. Obstructed by several blind shells produced in the “Condemn Lin Biao and Confucius” Movement, Gunner “Little Beijing” Lei Kaihua got shot by the enemy. The correspondent Jin Xiaozhu lost his legs in bombing. Furthermore, in efforts to cover Zhao Mengsheng, Liang Sanxi was shot down on the hill slope. In retaliation, Zhao Mengsheng rushed into the enemy cave with explosives, and hence contributing to the victory.
When the war was over, new graves were built in the martyrs’ cemetery at the foot of the mountain. The families of martyrs came to the troops. Jin Kailai’s wife Yang Gaihua and their child came, yet they did not receive his medal. In fact, Jin Kailai had not been awarded a medal because of violation in discipline as he had had complaints about the leadership and stolen the farmers’ sugarcane. The army commander Lei threw his hat angrily saying, “Heaven won’t be satisfied, if Jin Kailai is not awarded.”
Liang Sanxi’s mother Aunt Liang and Yuxiu finally arrived at the company by travelling all the way on foot from the Yimeng mountain area in Shandong Province. They used their pensions and borrowed money to pay off Sanxi’s debt. What Sanxi left them was only one military coat he had saved up.
As night fell, in front of Sanxi’s grave, Aunt Liang and Yuxiu burst into tears after holding them back for so long. In front of another grave, they met the Army Commander Lei, where they came to realize that Lei’s son “Little Beijing” had also been buried in the cemetery.