Interview|Shi Yifeng: The Dialectics of Our Times (Part 1)

    As a "post-70s" writer who was born in Beijing and grew up in the army compound, Shi Yifeng once admitted that he was deeply influenced by the "Beijing-style" writers of Lao She and Wang Shuo. Because of the similar growth background and language style to Wang Shuo, he will be asked questions about Wang Shuo on many occasions.
    But Shi Yifeng didn't mind or was anxious. In his view, everyone is writing about the era they are in, and they all go through Beijing to feel the changing world and people of the whole China and the world. Later, people couldn't get around Lao She and Wang Shuo, that's because they really wrote well and captured the "soul" of the times. However, Wang Shuo can't write about the era of Lao She, nor can Lao She write about the era of Wang Shuo, he himself has been in it, there are many people and stories to tell.
    Therefore, after "Born by Life" in 2018 and "Rose Full of Wheat Stores" in 2020, Shi Yifeng wrote a novel "Across the Ocean to Send" in his literary map. you". The novel was first published in the fifth issue of the special issue of "October" novels in 2021. "Crossing the Ocean to Send You" has just been launched by the People's Literature Publishing House.

    "Crossing the Ocean to Send You" has just been launched by the People's Literature Publishing House.

    If you have to sum it up in one sentence, "Across the Ocean to Send You" tells the story of three families "holding the wrong urn". One was from Beijing Hutong, and the deceased grandfather was an authentic old Beijing; one was in the upper class, and the deceased old lady was an old revolutionary, but her son who could make money went to the United States with his grandson; Hu, an overseas laborer, hopes to one day return to his hometown. The grandson Nadou, surnamed grandpa, had a deep relationship with grandpa. He wanted to exchange his grandfather's urn no matter what, so he went across the ocean to the United States. After all kinds of experiences, he heard the stories behind the other two urns. And finally let the deceased return to where they were going.
    Although Shi Yifeng has always lived in Beijing, he has never lived in a hutong before. This is the first time he has written about the Beijing people in the hutongs, and the hutong life in the sense of traditional Beijing-style literature. The novel began to be written in 2020. This time, the first thing that popped into his mind was neither the characters nor the plot, but the narrative tone of a traditional Beijing-style novel, or a situation and atmosphere.
    "Beijing writers basically still have a complex, and they are willing to write about the most traditional old Beijingers, Beijingers in the Lao She era." Recently, Shi Yifeng accepted an exclusive interview with The Paper about his new work. Due to the space, the interview is divided into two parts. In the first part, he talked about the origin and conception of the new work, the tradition and continuation of Beijing-style novels, and the "intergenerational inheritance" of Chinese family values; in the second part, he talked about his feelings about this era from the changes in his own writing and discoveries, as well as his novel approach and literary outlook.
    This is the previous article. Shi Yifeng

    Shi Yifeng

    In the jigsaw puzzle of literature, spell "Beijing" completely
    The Paper: This is the first time you wrote about your ancestors "Zaiqi", a native of Beijing?
    Shi Yifeng: Yes. "Crossing the Ocean to Send You" is about a Beijing hutong theme. People are basically people in the hutongs, and things are basically hutongs. Writers in Beijing basically still have a complex, willing to write about the most traditional old Beijingers, Beijingers in the Lao She era. Lao She wrote about the people in the hutongs. Later Beijing writers like Deng Youmei, Chen Jiangong, and the old gentlemen also wrote about the people in the hutongs. These people have lived in Beijing for generations. When Wang Shuo arrived, he began to write a lot about the army compound, or the people in the new urban area of Beijing, and the people in new Beijing. Most of the military compound are descendants of immigrants, the generation of their parents who joined the army or worked in state organs, and then the second generation stayed in Beijing or was born in Beijing.
    Although I have always lived in Beijing, I have never lived in a hutong. I have always lived in a military compound or university. On the Beijing side, the hutongs are Dongcheng District and Xicheng District, the second ring road in the traditional sense, the area in the most urban center. Called the suburbs, these years have turned into so-called commercial centers. It happened that my work unit "Contemporary" magazine was in the old city, and the former editor-in-chief Yang Xinlan lived in the hutong of Dongsi, and it took a few minutes to walk to work. I only became familiar with the hutongs after I went to work, and I used to go to the hutongs to stroll around, buy things, and eat when I had nothing to do. After walking around for a few years, I feel like I can write about things in this situation myself. In addition, I still want to write about old Beijing, just like Balzac wrote about Paris. I hope that in the puzzle of my literary writing, I can spell the city of Beijing a little bit, and I must write about Beijing in a hutong.
    The Paper: Beijing is too big, and the food in the novel can also help people quickly "locate". For example, the food of the protagonist in "Crossing the Ocean to Send You" is very different from the food in the previous works. Sugar and oil cakes, biscuits with meat, and fried lumps seem to be the "exclusive" food of Hutong people.
    Shi Yifeng: Yes, later on, the living habits of Beijingers became more mixed, and there are habits all over the country. Only these people living in the hutongs still maintain the living habits of old Beijing. We still have to go to the "Huguo Temple Snacks" to eat fried lumps. Today, it is still a state-run restaurant, which is very bad, but there are fried lumps there.
    The Paper: What do you think of Beijing-style novels?
    Shi Yifeng: I think Beijing-style novels have two standards. One criterion is to have the Beijing language or the unique atmosphere of Beijingers. For example, Beijingers are poor in speaking. Sometimes they do not speak to clarify a meaning, but to have fun and enjoy the language carnival. In fact, only in places with extremely high population density, and these people who have nothing serious to do, will language be used as a toy. Look at the Northwest, where the population density is very low. Northwesters don't use language as a toy. If you want to play, no one will play with you. Looking at Shanghai, the population density is high, but people are busy working to earn money, and they have serious business to do. Only people in northern China, especially Beijing people, can use language as a toy, and people from Tianjin and Northeast China also have this characteristic. And because Beijing is the capital, after turning the language into a toy, the taxi driver can talk to you about politics, as if I know everything, and the world's major affairs are our family affairs, I have such a feeling.
    Another criterion that I think is more important is that Beijing-style novels are written about events that happened in Beijing, but they actually reflect the changes in the entire Chinese society in this era. Beijing has always been the capital or cultural center of China, so the changes it reflects are even more dramatic. I think Beijing-style novels have a tradition. This tradition is to use Beijing to write about the changes in the world and people's hearts throughout China and the world. This is very important. For example, Lao She's "Tale of a Cat City" is an enlightenment novel. It writes about why Chinese people are so ignorant. "Four Generations Together" is about saving the nation. In fact, Lao She's themes are not the customs of Beijingers. What he wrote is this Changes in the country at that time. And so did Wang Shuo. In addition to being pompous, ironic, and challenging the authority of intellectuals, he also wrote about an era in which China rapidly changed from a political society to a commercial society in the early days of reform and opening up. I think one of Wang Shuo's great contributions is that he wrote about the social transition in the 1980s and 1990s, and he wrote it very well. If you look at his novels, the typical characters are the children of a military compound. They were soldiers in the past. This kind of person should be the descendant of state cadres, that is, a reserve state cadre, but he does not become a cadre. , After two years of mixing, he went to the south to be a messenger. This is a typical change that occurred only in the 1980s and 1990s. Therefore, Beijing-style novels have a relatively large social and epochal vision, and in essence, it is still a kind of creation based on realism. Shi Yifeng wrote about Beijingers in Hutongs for the first time.

    Shi Yifeng wrote about Beijingers in Hutongs for the first time.

    The Paper: Did you do any homework for this novel creation?
    Shi Yifeng: It is mainly daily accumulation. After arriving at the unit, I will go for a walk if I have nothing to do. I will not go for a walk after work, but I go to work. In fact, to be honest, there are still some differences between Beijing and Shanghai. Old Shanghai often worked as an accountant, engineer, or in other words, a teacher or a staff member. Perhaps the level of education and education was higher, and the job was better. But in old Beijing, there were many working people, such as taxi drivers and meat sellers. Generally speaking, if you enter a community during work hours, you will always feel that the community is quite empty, but if you enter the hutong during work hours, you will feel that it is full of people, that is, old Beijing, with less work. Later, the people living in the hutongs also changed slowly. A large number of old Beijingers were demolished or relocated, and they left the hutongs. Many people also lived in buildings, and the houses in the hutongs were rented out, so now some hutongs are also Three teachings and nine streams. There are also people who have a courtyard house, and they are either a high official or a fortune, basically not the old Beijing. There is also a temporary residence in a hutong because of the convenience of work, which can save some time in transportation, but in fact, living in a hutong is definitely a bit worse than living in a building.
    In the past, Wang Shuo wrote an article about hutongs written by a group of people. Many people wrote that they had deep feelings for hutongs, and then said that this was a folk custom and a tradition. Only Wang Shuo said that the living environment in this place was not good, and he lived in a It was uncomfortable. At that time, it was strange that he meant that he was willing to live here. Of course, that was Wang Shuo's view at that time. Now there are courtyards in Hutongs. It's really nice to have a repair inside. There was news a while ago that I bought a dilapidated house next to a hutong that could not be lived in for the school district housing of a key primary school. It was 10 square meters and sold for 3 million. This is also a hutong.
    The Paper: It is the alley of our time. There is also a very important part of the beginning of this story that takes place in the funeral home. In the past, like Yu Hua's "The Seventh Day", the funeral home was also written, and the funeral home in "Across the Ocean to Send You" still has current characteristics, such as brochures and monitoring devices. Do some homework?
    Shi Yifeng: It must be done, and it must be written like that. Another is to complete the rationale of the novel. The main plot of this novel is to change the wrong urn, but this scenario is impossible in many crematoriums now. It is all electronic, and it needs to scan the code. After scanning that code, it will not be wrong, so the possibility of error There is only one, and that is the old-fashioned stove that requires handwritten registration. Because of this, I have watched a lot of crematorium videos for a while, and I was terrified. Then why do you need an old-fashioned stove, because the cost is low and fast, and it was much faster and cheaper to burn people in the 1950s and 1960s, in which case the story makes sense. I also checked a lot of things, like the funeral industry as a whole, and the cremation process, and I had to do my homework. Including the time when I wrote about the United States later, I usually wrote about New York and Los Angeles, but because I mainly lived in Chicago during the time I lived in the United States, I wrote about Chicago.
    The dialectics between generations: values also have "generational relatives"
    The Paper : As far as the characters in "Across the Ocean to Send You", although the plot of the novel is mainly driven by Nadou, Nadou's grandfather is a character who impressed me more. Grandpa's life has experienced resistance to US aggression and aid Korea, famine, reform and opening up, and the restructuring of state-owned enterprises. He has always talked about collectives and dedication. In the novel, his kind deeds also planted the seeds of "good news" for the future, even after his death. Are you writing this out of homage or nostalgia for more traditional values and ethics?
    Shi Yifeng: I think from a young age, this is benevolence and righteousness, the basic logic and moral principle of people-to-people interaction in civil society. Another one, I want to write a dialectics in this novel, that is, the dialectics between several generations, or the "separation of relatives" in terms of life ethics. Generally speaking, we say "close relatives". Grandfather and grandson are relatively close. Sometimes father and son are not close to grandfather and grandson, but this is the closeness of blood. I found a very interesting thing, that is, in terms of outlook on life and values, there seems to be a little bit of "relativeness".
    Peng Mei News : Or "cross-generation inheritance"?
    Shi Yifeng : Yes, the grandfather's attitude often coincides with the grandson's attitude. For example, my grandfather loves to watch "Changjin Lake", and so does his grandson, but the father in the middle especially likes American blockbusters. This rule does not exist in the United States, nor does it exist in other countries. Only in China will there be this kind of "relative generation" in terms of political ethics. I think this is a very interesting part of our society. We can't judge whether it is good or bad, but I think it's interesting, and then if you look at these three generations together, there is a dialectics: the next generation will always be the opposite of the previous generation, but the next generation will always be the opposite of the previous generation. It became the same face of the first generation again, which is very interesting.
    The Paper : Does this mean that the power of the times is actually far greater than the power of genes?
    Shi Yifeng: It can also be understood in this way. I think this matter should be formed by the social atmosphere. Because Grandpa's generation lived in the 1950s, the social atmosphere at that time shaped his personality. Dad's youth may have just ended the "Cultural Revolution" and entered the reform and opening up, and then the atmosphere of this era shaped his personality. By the time of Sun Tzu's generation, some cities in China have become relatively prosperous and stable, and the so-called national pride has begun to rise again. I think personality is actually determined by our social atmosphere, including Nadou and his family. Grandpa is a very collectivist person. Although Nadou does not get along well and does not belong to any group, he is actually quite willing to help When other people do things, only my father is more selfish. That generation feels that they have been deprived and deceived, so they become very selfish. This is often caused by the experience of the times. I think people may really form their own views on life and times in their youth.
    The Paper: How do you view the relationship between individuals and the times? If the influence of the times is huge and inevitable, to what extent do you think the individuals who live in them can exert their own subjective initiative?
    Shi Yifeng: I think it is basically impossible for ordinary people to talk about "individually changing the era", or "change the world" like Steve Jobs. The reason why you are a small person is because you cannot change the times, there is nothing you can do, and everyone may have to recognize this. But I think there are also some relatively constant personal principles. For example, in Chinese ethics or the ethics of the entire human race, we talk about considering others, we talk about dedication, and we talk about finding personal value. These are things that individuals can do, that is, when there is an obvious turn in the times, if individuals can stick to the long-term universal ethics and values of human beings and reflect the value of their own existence, it is already very valuable to small people. "Across the Ocean to Send You" was first published in the fifth issue of the "October" novel special issue in 2021.

    "Across the Ocean to Send You" was first published in the fifth issue of the "October" novel special issue in 2021.

    The Paper : In fact, this novel has also been discussing "living methods", but the thinking in it is not only reflected between vertical generations, but also between contemporaries of different classes and regions. For example, young people like Nadou can mix with "old Beijing". The migrant girl from Hunan has to work two jobs at the same time; Nadou claims that "I have never seen anything from Beijing", but it is far inferior to overseas. Workers have knowledge and courage about the world. The horizontal and vertical comparison will open up the vision of this novel and give it a broader feeling than before.
    Shi Yifeng : I think this is where I am more gratified, and it is also a very classic way of writing - Dickens' way of writing. I don't have to admit that novels like "David Copperfield" and "Oliver Twist" put people of all classes, identities and personalities into a melting pot of times through a series of characters. , or put them in a container and let them interact and look at each other. I think Dickens has done a very good job of this. If we write novels, we hope to write relatively complex and relatively broad, then where is this complexity and broadness? I think this method of Dickens is very effective, really want to learn from the classic novels.
    The Paper : The process of writing a novel is also a process of thinking. After writing this novel, what kind of "living method" will you recognize more?
    Shi Yifeng : All I can recognize is to keep thinking. If we can easily say which way of life is right, this way of doing it might be dubious too. A responsible attitude towards life, I think, can only be constantly observed and thought, and then adjusted. A person in a good novel, regardless of the level of culture, is a thinker, not necessarily a thinker, but a thinker, he will constantly think about how I should live and how I should live. You see Gregory in "Silent Don". I believe that good writers keep thinking about the same question - how is it right to be alive? This could be a perennial problem, or a perpetual problem with a coming-of-age novel.
    The Paper: As we mentioned earlier, under the influence of the social atmosphere, Huang Yale's father's generation was very self-centered. Then we may also discuss a question, that is, is self-centeredness a good thing or a bad thing? There is a view that we were all collectivists in the past, everyone had no ego, and people were pitiful back then. However, when people go to the other extreme, that is, when they emphasize self, it seems that they are prone to problems. Generally speaking, "self" is a relatively positive word, but "selfishness" is a particularly derogatory word. Do you think there is a clear line between "self" and "selfishness"?
    Shi Yifeng: Acknowledging self-worth should be an ideal state, but avoiding selfish tendencies. I just don't know why, Chinese society has never grasped this degree well, or it is to obliterate itself, or to let selfishness go, and there is no intermediate state. I think this point is also interesting. It is indeed the dialectics of our era, and we can continue to think about it. It's a really good question, and I can write a novel to consider this issue in the future.


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