On June 8th, Liu Yichang, one of the red-letter authors of post-war Sinophone literature, died at 99.
Better known for his modernist urban style, Liu had published forty works including The Drunkard (1963), considered the first stream of consciousness novel in Sinophone literature, and Intersection (1993). The two novels later became the inspiration of Wong Kar-wai‘s award-winning films 2046 (2004) and In the Mood for Love (2000).
Image via South China Morning Post
That era has passed, and everything that belongs to that time is no longer there.
Born in Shanghai, Liu cultivated his literary intellectual mostly when he studied in St. John’s University, Shanghai (Eileen Chang, the author of Lust, and Caution, also studied there). After graduation, Liu worked as the editor-in-chief in Sao Dang Bao (掃蕩報) and later established his own press－Huaizheng Cultural Society (懷正文化社).
Living in 1950s Shanghai which was the intersection of Western and Eastern cultures, Liu demonstrated in his works a sense of new impressionism which stemmed from Japanese modernism and was nourished by Western existentialism. This trend of literature in East Asia was best known for its thick-description of subjective feelings and tactile sensations.
The Cover of The Drunkard (酒徒)
Image via Annual Exhibition of Hong Kong Writers
The Drunkard did portray a vivid and socially connotative picture of the contemporary Hong Kong society. The protagonist, Old Lau, is a passionate and talented middle-aged writer whose vision of a genuinely flourishing local literature scene gets engulfed by reality, eventually turning himself into an erotic novel writer. Setting the impotence of intellectuals against the prevailing social climate unveils the struggle of a writer in his age. Source.
Liu once commented the decline of Sinophone literature, especially in Hong Kong: In 1950s, novel publishing was popular and writers contributed the seriously affective literary works; in 1970s, with the economical development, the commercialization of literature was boomed, which scrutinized literature through market values; in 1990s, because readers’ ability to read declined, most novelists were no longer creating works that can be considered artistic or auratic.
As with his character in The Drunkard who is absurdly angry and ideally ambitious, Liu made an effort to describe the era through his lens of sensationalism. In his productive life, he had inspired so many intellectuals in the fields of writing and film, and reclaimed the territory of Hong Kong literature.
Featured Image Via IndieWire and Twitter