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Jiang Gui: 重阳 (Rival Suns)

As a student in the 1920s, Hung T’ung-yeh becomes involved in the 4th May movement. We soon see here, as we will see later in the novel, the disparity between the old ways and the new ways. The principal of the school is adamant that education and politics do not mix. Students must study. If they want to be involved in politics, they should leave the school. The Chinese teacher has different ideas. He feels that they do mix and that change is needed, which can only be brought about by political action. After school Hung T’ung-yeh is unable to go to college so he goes to his uncle, a senior civil servant, for help. His uncle is not very helpful but does get him an apprenticeship in a gun shop owned by a Frenchman, Lefebvre. Mme Lefebvre takes to him and when her usual pedicurist does not meet her needs, she persuades Hung T’ung-yeh to take up pedicure, which he reluctantly does. However, he is still paid a lowly six dollars a month.

Hung T’ung-yeh suffers the pedicure and other indignities in the hope of future advancement. However, when his mother is taken ill, he needs a 100 dollars for the hospital bill. Lefebvre and his uncle are only willing to give him a few dollars when, suddenly, his mother’s foreman, P’eng Wen-hsueh, produces the money. Hung T’ung-yeh goes to visit P’eng Wen-hsueh to thank him and meets P’eng Wen-hsueh’s friend, Liu Shao-ch’iao. The two are Communists but also homosexual and soon Hung T’ung-yeh is involved in both their political and sexual activities. Indeed, it is Liu Shao-ch’iao who becomes his lover, to P’eng Wen-hsueh’s disgust. However, Mme Lefebvre insists he comes on holiday with them, as she needs her regular pedicure, and it is there that he meets Professor Kuo who sends him to Ch’ien Pen-san, when he is back in Shanghai. Soon he is working for both Ch’ien Pen-san and the Kuomintang and for Liu Shao-ch’iao and the Communists. Liu Shao-ch’iao is well aware that he is working for the Kuomintang and uses him as a spy but Hung T’ung-yeh assumes that Ch’ien Pen-san is unaware that he is working for the Communists. Despite being beaten up by Liu Shao-ch’iao for disobeying orders, he still remains loyal to him. When Ch’ien Pen-san sends him on a mission to Hankow, he is happy to go, and plans to take his sister, Ching-ling. However, Mme Lefebvre is furious and fakes an accusation of theft against him. He is kept in prison for two weeks but with no evidence is eventually released and he makes his way to Hankow. Much of the rest of the (very long) novel is about his activities in Hankow. The Communists are planning to disrupt the Northern Expedition, a Kuomintang attempt to suppress the warlords. The Communists feel that they are not yet prepared to take advantage of the Expedition.

Hung T’ung-yeh continues to play both sides (though Ch’ien Pen-san is well aware what he is doing) and we follow the rather complicated political activities in Hankow, with Hung T’ung-yeh organising strikes and other worker activities. The Women’s movement is also very active, even banning women from wearing bras and panties, as they are too bourgeois! But we follow other activities as well. There is another French arms dealer in Hankow, M. Raymond. As Hung T’ung-yeh has learned French, he is able to get on well with Anna, Mme Raymond. Raymond himself is allied with the war lords and we follow him as he goes off to Manchuria to plot with them. While most of the foreigners are bad, there is one redeeming character, the Japanese doctor Itakura Minoru, one of the few foreign doctors who will treat the Chinese. Not only do we follow the political events but, as in any good Chinese novel, family issues are complicated, not only with Hung T’ung-yeh, his sister and mother, but also with Liu Shao-ch’iao, whose family is in Hankow. As this is an anti-communist novel, Liu Shao-ch’iao does not come out well. He is a bisexual predator. He mistreats his wife, who tries but fails to commit suicide. He has a mistress and tries to have an affair with Hung T’ung-yeh’s sister. He also has homosexual liaisons with Hung T’ung-yeh and P’eng Wen-hsueh. He justifies his lust as an attack on conventional morality. He is also dishonest in his political and personal dealings. It is a long and complicated novel, with lots of side stories, from Liu Shao-ch’iao’s family’s history to stories of other characters such as the British harbour master, Wharf Devil. However, if you can accept the Chinese way of writing a novel, it is thoroughly enjoyable.

Publishing history

First published in Chinese 1961 by Zuo pin cong shu
First published in English 1999 by E. Mellen Press
Translated by Timothy A. Ross