Also known as Tong Zhong Gui and Tong Zhonggui. Born: Suzhou, People’s Republic of China, 21 January 1963 (some sources give 23 January). Education: Suzhou public schools; Beijing Normal University, B.D., 1984. Family: Married Wei Hong in 1987; one child. Career: Worked briefly as a schoolteacher in Nanjing after 1983; editor of Zhongshan literary magazine in Jiangsu, 1986-92; full-time novelist and short-story writer from the mid-1980s; literary seminar on his works was convened in Beijing, 1987; writer-in-residence, University of Iowa International Writing Program, 2001-. Lives in Nanjing, China.



Su Tong xiao shuo jing pin. 1993.

Su Tong san wen. 2000.


Qi qie Cheng qun. 1990; as Raise the Red Lantern: Three Novellas, translated by Michael S. Duke, 1993, includes: Da hong deng long gao gao gua (Wives and Concubines), 1934 nien ti t’ao wang (1934 Escapes), and Ying su chih chia (Opium Family). Mi. 1991; as Rice, translated by Howard Goldblatt, 1995.

Hong Fen. 1991.

Nan fang di duo luo. 1991.

Hun yin chi ching. 1993.

Shao nien hsieh. 1993.

Shih chieh liang ts’e. 1993.

Hou gong. 1994.

Mo tai ai ch’ing. 1994.

Pu sa man. 1999.

Critical Studies:

”Walking Toward the World: A Turning Point in Contemporary Chinese Fiction” by Michael S. Duke, in World Literature Today, Summer 1991; ”Su Tong: Young Teller of Old Tales” by Wei Liming, in Beijing Review, 12 April 1993; ”Rice” by Richard Bernstein, in New York Times, 13 November 1995.

Since the late 1980s, Su Tong has emerged as one of contemporary China’s most celebrated fiction writers, with a critically acclaimed portfolio of short stories, novellas, and novels, some of which have been translated into English and other languages. His life and career parallels a convulsive time in the history of modern China. Su Tong was born as Tong Zhonggui in 1963, not long before Mao Zedong launched the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution that demanded greater intellectual conformity to the nation’s socialist ideology. Born in the southern Chinese city of Suzhou, Su Tong enrolled in the Chinese department of Beijing Normal University in 1980, after graduating from secondary school in his hometown. After graduation, he took a teaching position in the city of Nanjing, the old southern capital of China, where he still resides. While in Nanjing, he began writing professionally and joined the editorial staff of Zhongshan, a literary magazine that was publishing the works of younger writers with diverse opinions about Chinese society. Among the writers he admires is William Faulkner, the U.S. novelist and Nobel prize winner famous for his portrayals of life in the American South in the early 20th century.

Mao had died in 1976, and over the next decade China had adopted more liberal economic and diplomatic policies, though dissident literature and civil liberties were still tightly controlled. Nevertheless, younger writers like Su Tong and his peers were able to express themselves more freely, without the need to adhere to the strict ideological purity demanded of the previous generation. The stories that Su Tong began publishing from the mid-1980s did not need to idealize the noble proletariat or indict the corruption of capitalism. Instead, he began to drew on older Chinese traditions as well as Western sources to create a detached, apolitical, individualist literature that expressed his own sense of ethics and aesthetics. His characters are portrayed realistically, warts and all, as they live vulnerable lives beleaguered by superstition, irrationality, or passion. His dysfunctional characters are so caught up in greed, sexual obsession, ambition, and sheer survival that they have little luxury for intellectual or ideological pursuits. Even in the narratives set during the Cultural Revolution and its aftermath, like ”The Brothers Shu,” a short story, or The North Part of Town, a novel, there is little overt political commentary. Instead, Su Tong focuses his attention on such issues as family conflict or misdirected youth. The short story ”Escape” chronicles the tragic life of a peasant who finally dies after a life of trying to escape society’s strictures, such as abandoning his wife or deserting his military obligations.

For Su Tong, the family saga offers a fertile expressive milieu for his fiction. In one sense, this can be seen as a conservative attribute that attests to the author’s rootedness in a more traditional (pre-Mao) China in which Confucian values predominated. Still, Su Tong does not idealize these earlier models, and he does not refrain from portraying them as dysfunctional or scandal-ridden.

One of Su Tong’s best-known works, especially in the West, is Qi qie Cheng qun (Raise the Red Lantern), a compilation of three ”family saga” novellas published in English in 1993. The titles of the three novellas underscore the author’s refusal to idealize the traditional family: Da hong deng long gao gao gua (Wives and Concubines), 1934 nien ti t’ao wang (1934 Escapes), and Ying su chih chia (Opium Family or Poppy Family). In the second of these, for example, Su Tong traces the rise and fall of an inbred clan in Maple Village, where intrigue and rivalry are far more prominent than adherence to ethical values. In this, as in his other works, Su Tong employs often graphic symbols to dramatize the depravity of the family; here, it is a jade jar containing semen that spills and causes a plague in the town. In Opium Family, its patriarch sells his daughter to an old man, and she is later raped by a peasant who becomes a Communist leader. This novella can be seen as a veiled critique of the Communist era, in which traditional family ties were abruptly replaced by a revolutionary ethos.

Su Tong’s novel, Mi (Rice), which appeared in English in 1995, is set in the 1930s, when China was besieged by chaos, famine, and foreign invasion. Once again, Su Tong downplays direct political commentary in favor of his focus on the depravity and greed of its central character, Five Dragons. Su Tong uses rice, the staple food of China and a traditional symbol of prosperity, as the unifying metaphor of the novel, but he often describes it being used in a negative fashion, as when it is used during the sexual violation of a woman, the suffocation of a child, or the desecration of a corpse.

Reviewing this novel for the New York Times, Richard Bernstein wrote that Su Tong had emerged as one of a group of younger Chinese writers who no longer felt compelled to write the kind of ”good-news-only literature” that was favored during the Mao Zedong era. By choosing themes and situations that were bawdy and profane by Communist standards, Su Tong argues for a literature of realism that indicts its characters by standards that transcend narrower ideological aims.

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