Ying Wang is adept at adjusting to new locales. She came to Mount Holyoke College after a teaching circuit that included Middlebury College, Princeton University, Smith College, and McGill University in Montreal, Canada. But her easy adaptability is perhaps most attributable to an independence nurtured while growing up during China's Cultural Revolution under the leadership of Mao Zedong.
As young children, Wang and her brother moved with their father, a government official, from their home in Beijing to the Shaanxi province. Their eight-month sojourn was part of the government's program to bring the educated urban population into rural villages and communes, where they lived and worked with peasant farmers. Wang's mother stayed behind in Beijing where her services as a university accountant were needed.
In 1975 when Wang completed high school, she was required to serve the state by joining peers in a mass deportation of teenagers to the countryside. Under Mao's policies, urban families were permitted to keep only one child in the city; Wang's parents felt their eldest, Ying, was more equipped for the rural experience than her younger brother.
Wang dreamed of going to the university but was placed in the household of a peasant couple with five daughters in Lasu Ying and worked as a field laborer side by side with the village women. They cut wheat and corn with scythes in the grueling summer months and flattened the fields by shoveling dirt in the more leisurely winter season. Her advanced writing and speaking skills, however, soon earned her the position of village broadcaster. For the next two years she excelled as a Mao-style DJ. Her music selections, news reports, readings of village doggerel, and work instructions were heard over a loudspeaker system in houses and public places throughout the village.
Wang looks back on her years in Lasu Ying with little regret. "The experience was rewarding in a way, because I felt like I became much more independent," she says. "The peasant family treated me well, and if I'd stayed in the city, I wouldn't have known anything about the Chinese countryside." She is sympathetic, however, to the resentful attitudes of older citizens for whom imposed exile to the country defined significant years of their life. "The best years of their youth were wasted," she says of workers who endured farm labor before government reforms were instituted. Mao died in 1976, and the more liberal Deng Xiaoping came to power. "To me, three years was bearable," she says.
Wang finally realized her dream of attending university and at the age of 22 began studies in Chinese language and literature at Beijing Normal University. After 1982 she taught Chinese as a foreign language at the Beijing Language Institute and later was admitted to Smith College as a fellowship student. She earned her Ph.D. from the University of Toronto.
Wang's recent publications include “‘Homing Crane Lodge’ Versus The Story of a Palindrome: Two Different Ways of Redefining Qing and Employing Inversion” in New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies (June, 2004) and “Imitation as Dialogue: The Mongolian Writer Yinzhan naxi (1837-1892) and His Imitations of The Dream of the Red Chamber” in Tamkang Review (Winter issue, 2003). Another article, “The Disappearance of the Simulated Oral Context and the Use of the Supernatural Realm in Honglou meng,” is forthcoming in Chinese Literature: Essays, Articles, Reviews.
Wang also contributed “The Voices of Re-readers: Interpretations of Three Late Qing Rewrites of Jinghua yuan” to Snake’s Legs: Sequels, Continuations and Chinese Fiction, edited by Martin Huang (University of Hawaii Press, 2004). She is co-editor of Advanced Reader of Contemporary Chinese Short Stories: Reflections on Humanity (University of Washington Press, 2003).
Currently, Wang is writing a book examining the theory, practice, and reception of literary rewrites and “imitations” during the last hundred years of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), a period during which rewriting, as a response to literary models of the past, became the fundamental dynamic of textual production. Her focus is on six novels that imitate the eighteenth-century masterpiece, Honglou meng, to challenge the traditional scholarly contempt for these imitations and to argue for a continuity of innovation and iconoclasm in Chinese fiction from Honglou meng to the late Qing novel.
Wang teaches Elementary Chinese, Intermediate Chinese, Advanced Chinese, Women in Chinese Literature, and Contemporary Chinese Fiction.
Photo credit: Leah Masci, LITS Webteam.
- "Charting Cultural Change in China," Office of Communications, December 9, 2013
- Chinese at Mount Holyoke Teaching Faculty: Ying Wang