The Meandering Stream
The book talks about the tens of millions of Chinese teenagers, the Zhiqing, who, from 1968 to 1978 were being exiled from major cities such as Shanghai and Beijing to remote country areas, for 're-education'.
About the Author
Two middle class twenty-one year old girls, Hua and Zheng have just completed four hard-working years on a commune in a province close to the Vietnamese border, where they have lived in monastic isolation, not only from the outside world but from the young men who live in the barracks a kilometre down the road.
Hua has met Chai who has lived his life as an orphan and has become a thief. Despite their totally different backgrounds, they form a relationship. Hua soon fell pregnant. Fearful of the future with a child, they tried to induce an abortion, but life triumphs and Hua gives birth to a baby daughter, Jing. This brings five years of both joy and hardship and reading about the upbringing and educating of the young girl against all the odds, is heart-rendering.
Zheng, too, against Hua's advice, decided to become a mother. Already in labour, Zheng walks the five kilometres to the medical clinic, where the doctor is new, medically inexperienced and arrogant. He tries to induce the birth, but both Zheng and her infant die.
This event is a flashpoint for the discontent which has been fermenting in the commune. The Zhiqing organise a delegation to Beijing, but being stopped by local authorities, they retaliate by blockading the railway line.
In Beijing, an ambitious politician sees his opportunity for intervention, and finally legislates for Zhiqing to return to their cities.
But Hua and Chai must make a sacrifice. To gain employment back in the city, they must not appear to be 'married'. In a torturous decision, they arrange to leave the five year old Jing with a local farmer, until they get established. But life in the city is even harder than expected. Hua and Chai do not find work, and after a year, the farmer, who cannot afford to keep Jing, arranges for the girl to live in an orphanage.
Only after her sick mother dies is Hua able to return to the province to look for her daughter. Do they ever find each other?
Jianguo Wu, growing up in an ordinary Chinese family in Chengdu, arrived in Australia as a student after the 1989 Tiananmen massacre. In this free land, finding that he was able to express his thoughts, made him realise that he had great potential to be a writer, though this had never occurred to him before.
Questions raised by the Book
Soon after he arrived, two of his articles were published in The Australian, which encouraged him to write books. After some setbacks, he was accepted into the Professional Writing and Editing course at the RMIT in 1995. That same year, having been encouraged by the teacher of Novel, he finished his first novel The Meandering Stream, which had been nominated for the 1996 HarperCollins Fiction Prize. While continuing his writing course at the RMIT he began to write stories about the first tide of Chinese migrants to Australia since the 1850?s gold rush. One of the stories Crash was highly commended in the 1997 Greater Dandenong Short Story Competition and published in Sinorama (an international magazine published in Taiwan as well as the Australian Multicultural Book Review. Another, Dancing with the Enemy was highly commended in the 1997 Judah Waten National Story Writing Competition. The story Pure Land has been published in Island magazine. What appears to have been a first for a Mainland Chinese author—writing in English in Australia—encouraged him to move his writing career further. One of the reasons for his success, he believes, is the issue of multiculturalism, which has never been so important as today. As a writer Jianguo Wu sees himself narrowing the cultural distance between East and West.
Since 1998, Wu's writing career has moved from novel to play and film. While doing a screenwriting subject, he started his first film project 'Dancing with the Enemy'. Currently, he has finished the treatment and a part of the script, and now plans to finish the first draft by the end of year. A film producer has taken already an interest in the project. Meanwhile, he also finished the first draft of his play 'Beyond the Gate of Heavenly Peace' and the first draft of his second novel 'Kites with Broken Strings', which was nominated for The Australian/Vogel Litarary Award in 1998.
- How does the book deal with the theme of contemporary politics?
- Does the concept of 'individual' and 'character' manifest itself in modern Chinese literature?
- Is Hua a modern heroine? A feminist role model?
- Is Chai a figure of tragedy?
- How does this novel approach the Chinese notion of fate versus determinism?
- Consider the similarity between this novel and classic Chinese landscape painting.
- As to the themes of 'historical change' and 'personal dislocation', are there similarities with 19th Century English novelist, Thomas Hardy?
- This book has an 'unresolved' ending. Discuss.
- Can men write books about women?
- Is it necessary to meet the writer to understand the book?