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Sheng Keyi

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

(1973-    ) Chinese author who came to writing as a mature student after late teens and twenties spent in a variety of professions. Her stories frequently dwell on the formative event of her teenage years – the Tiananmen Square Incident of 1989, which she observed first through the prism of state media, and only later came to appreciate as a moment of deeper resonance.

A strong thread of Feminism runs through Sheng's work, first visible in her non-genre stories such as Bei Mei (2004; trans Shelly Bryant as Northern Girls: Life Goes On 2012), which drew on her experience as a migrant worker in China's industrial south, noting that in her time as a communications officer for a birth control clinic, women were treated "like livestock ... with no control over their bodies". Despite critical acclaim on its original publication in China, she was advised that the third edition in 2015 would need to be censored in keeping with stricter controls on speech in China in a changing political climate. It is hence possible to divine a rupture in her work between her earlier pieces published to great acclaim in China before the 2010s, and her subsequent writing, usually published unabridged in Taiwan and overseas, but which might be presumed to be somewhat altered in Chinese editions – compare to similar issues affecting the work of Ma Jian.

Arguably her most fantastical work, Siwang Fuge (2012; trans Shelly Bryant as Death Fugue 2014) allegorizes the ongoing Memory Edit regarding events in Tiananmen Square as a literal stain at the heart of China, or rather, in her invented state of "Dayang", where a soaring tower of excrement suddenly and inexplicably appears in the central square of the capital, "Beiping." Reflecting similar redactions to be found in the works of Chan Koonchung, Huang Fan and others, her protagonist finds what he first appears to be satisfaction and peace in a Utopia, Swan Valley, only to realize that he is living in a highly regulated community where human will is subservient to the needs of the State, and peace is maintained through the draconian imposition of Eugenics – compare to Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (1932). The title alludes directly to Paul Celan's "Todesfüge" (written circa 1945; first German publication in Der Sand aus den Urnen ["The Sand from the Urns"], coll 1948 chap; trans by Clement Greenberg as "Death Fugue", March 1955 Commentary), likening Celan's poetic account of Nazi death camps to Tiananmen as a "spiritual massacre", and echoing Celan's ideas regarding the politics of remembering the unthinkable. Sheng would return to similar themes with Jin Hui ["Brocade Ash" vt The Metaphor Detox Centre, this latter seemingly being the author's preferred title for a putative translation] (2018), set in a clinic where patients whose genuine concerns about politics and society are deemed to be dangerous delusions that need to be eradicated for the good of all. Upon the protagonist's death, her spirit is administered with eye drops by a local witch: a Conceptual Breakthrough that allows her to experience all the stories that have been suppressed and censored by the inhabitants of her town. Both books, being harshly critical of the People's Republic, were published in Taiwan rather than in Sheng's home country.

At first glance Nuyong Shouji ["The Nanny's Notebook"] (2020) appears to develop the themes of Northern Girls, written in her native Yiyang dialect, and depicting the tribulations of a child-minder in contemporary Beijing. However, its title seems to be a deliberate allusion possibly better translated as The Handmaid's Tale, for which see Margaret Atwood. [JonC]

see also: Chi Ta-wei; Guo Xiaolu; Hao Jingfang; Mainstream Writers of SF; Women SF Writers.

Sheng Keyi

born Yiyang, Hunan Province, People's Republic of China: 4 July 1973

works (selected)

  • Bei Mei ["Northern Girls"] (Wuhan, China: Changjiang Wenxue, 2004) [binding unknown/]
  • Siwang Fuge ["Death Fugue"] (Taiwan: INK Publishing, 2012) [binding unknown/]
    • Death Fugue (Sydney, New South Wales: Giramondo Publishing, 2014) [trans of the above by Shelly Bryant: pb/]
  • Jin Hui ["Brocade Ash" vt The Metaphor Detox Centre] (Taipei: Linking Publishing, 2018) [binding unknown/]
  • Zigong ["The Womb"] (Taipei, Taiwan: Chiu Ko, 2019) [binding unknown/]
    • Xirang ["Breathing Earth"] (Beijing: Renmin Wenxue, 2020) [retitled Chinese mainland ed of the above: binding unknown/]
  • Nuyong Shouji ["The Nanny's Notebook"] (Beijing: Shiyue Wenyi, 2020) [binding unknown/]


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