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Pa Chin: 寒夜 (Cold Nights)

This is a relatively simple story of a man dying. It is set during World War II, when the Japanese are invading China and gradually approaching Chunking, where this novel is set (and where Pa Chin lived). Wang works as a proofreader for a publishing company and shares the concerns of his colleagues, family and friends about the possible arrival of the Japanese. He hears and spreads the rumours about their attack and capture of this town or that. But is not just the war that bothers Pa Chin. He is sick – he has tuberculosis – and is dying, not least because he cannot afford medicine or doctors. He lives with his mother and his common-in-law wife, Shu-Sheng, by whom he has a son who is away at school. The main source of his vexation is that the two women inevitably dislike one another intensely.

Most of the story is concerned with how Wang struggles to survive, despite his illness and the problems at home. His wife, after their fourteen years of marriage, has now decided that she wants to enjoy herself, despite their lack of money and the war. She is being courted, unbeknownst by Wang, by her boss, who wants her to come with him to Lanchow, where their bank is moving. But, in particular, she cannot stand her mother-in-law who has more traditional views on the role of women than she does, leaving the sick Wang in the middle. Pa Chin tells an excellent story of how it all falls apart for Wang, as he loses his job, his wife and, finally, his life, buried in a small grave.

Publishing history

First published in Chinese 1947
First published in English 1978 by Chinese University Press, Hong Kong
Translated by Nathan K. Mao and Liu Ts’un-yan