[REVIEW] “A Rich Tapestry for Tomorrow’s Beijingers: A Review of π‘‡β„Žπ‘’ π‘Šπ‘’π‘‘π‘‘π‘–π‘›π‘” π‘ƒπ‘Žπ‘Ÿπ‘‘π‘¦” by Susan Blumberg-Kason

{Return to Cha Review of Books and Films.}

Liu Xinwu (author), Jeremy Tiang (translator), The Wedding Party, Amazon Crossing, 2021. 400 pgs.

Time is a recurring theme in Liu Xinwu’s novel, The Wedding Party, recently translated from the Chinese into English by Jeremy Tiang. The book first came out four decades ago, which in itself presents something to think about. How has Liu’s portrayal of a community centred around a traditional Beijing siheyuan ε››εˆι™’, or courtyard home, changed over time? Do people still have the same type of conversations and are they concerned with the same issues Liu so vividly relates in his stories?

Not only does the narrator of the novel discuss time and Einstein’s theory of relativity, but the siheyuan is located near the Bell and Drum Towers, which up until the modern age had told the time to Beijingers. The book is also divided into sections, centring around different hours of a single day: 12 December 1982. These two-hour windows are labelled Time of the Jade Rabbit, Time of the Dragon, and Time of the Snake, among others.

It is on this day that a resident of the siheyuan, Xue Jiyue, is to marry Pan Xiuya, hence the title of the book. So, the narrator asks, what difference does this all make?

As you read on, you will find that the events of this book are much closer to your own life. Distant things feel mysterious, and closer ones unremarkable. The point is whether we can learn from them. Near or far, high or low, big or small, up or down, as long as we discover something new, we gain something, which brings us closer to happiness.

β€”Liu Xinwu’s The Wedding Party, translated by Jeremy Tiang

Liu achieves this and more in his clever story with amusing dialogue and a hodgepodge of characters who just cannot allow this wedding to run smoothly, sometimes through no fault of their own. Auntie Xue is the groom’s mother and she has plenty to worry about on her younger son’s big day. Jiyue seems a bit indifferent as the groom and star of the wedding banquet, as does his bride, Xiuya, though she is not shy about letting people know what’s important to her.

Like so many other couples, after the initial meeting, they began their courtship with a walk in the park, then another walk, and gradually they started spending more time sitting than walking, not just talking but also getting physical. At the earliest stages, each took the other’s hand to look at their watch, obviously not to tell the time, but to ask: β€œWhat brand is this? How much did it cost? Who bought it for you? Is it accurate?” Xiuya swiftly grasped the implications of Jiyue’s timepiece: a quartz digital watch from Hong Kong.

β€”Liu Xinwu’s The Wedding Party, translated by Jeremy Tiang

It was soon decided that Jiyue’s family would give Xiuya a Swiss Rado watch as a wedding gift. Time here becomes materialistic and the epitome of all that is contemporary in the early 1980s: luxury goods from Hong Kong. The watch makes several comical appearances throughout the book.

But it’s the supporting characters, or wedding guests, who provide the most laughs. Nanny Zhan is a formerly accused rightist who just cannot filter what comes out of her mouth. The residents of the siheyuan feel that Nanny Zhan is a meddler, but ultimately she has the married couple’s best interests at heart. In one scene, Nanny Zhan helps collect the bride, Xiuya, to bring her to the siheyuan for the banquet. On their way to the Xue family, Nanny Zhan suddenly asks the driver to stop so she can pop into a market. It seems like a selfish thing to do on someone else’s wedding day, but Nanny Zhan remembers there is a jewellery stall and feels that a certain brooch will perfectly complement Xiuya’s look.

Luo Baosang is another colourful guest. He is the first to arrive at the party and immediately demands a certain brand of cigarette and voices his displeasure about the lack of beer. He ends up going out to buy someβ€”to complete the alcoholic trifecta of baijiu, wine and beer that is de rigueur at Beijing weddingsβ€”and thereby allays Auntie Xue’s worries of a bad omen. Baosang is a humorous, if crass, character, and it’s easy for other guests to blame him when things go wrong, but as the narrator later mentions, β€œtime treats everyone the same” and Baosang will be vindicated.

The book reminds me in some ways of Han Bangqing’s The Sing-Song Girls of Shanghai, translated into the English by Eileen Chang. Although it was written a good ninety years before Liu wrote The Wedding Party, Han’s epic novel was also first serialised and depicts everyday life in Shanghai’s red light district. Although it’s difficult to compare today’s Shanghai to the late-Qing era city in Han’s book, the characters’ problems and concerns seem enduring.

The Wedding Party is also timeless in the ways it shows human nature and people’s natural inclination to blame others for their problems, thanks to the way Jeremy Tiang illuminates the voices of each of the characters and brings out the deadpan humour of the narrator. But it’s also interesting to look back at this particular time, less than a decade on from the Cultural Revolution. Liu shows the openness of that time as his narrator and characters poke fun at Jiang Qing and the rest of the Gang of Four, the Cultural Revolution, the Great Leap Forward, and other difficult episodes of modern Chinese history. Modern (or Western-influenced) marriage is also critiqued, not just with Xiuya’s fixation on a Rado watch, but also with a minor character named Mu Ying who from her late teens jumps from husband to husband, falling in and out of love, as if she holds no other responsibility than listening to the flutters of her heart. Liu also includes entertaining accounts of the Beijing publishing industry and how far some writers will go to get their work in print.

Once again, the narrator wonders why this all matters. Midway through the story, the author sums it up neatly:

By observing the various people who live in this courtyard, their joys and sorrows, their conflicts and clashes, we keep a faithful record and leave a richer tapestry behind for tomorrow’s Beijingers.

β€”Liu Xinwu’s The Wedding Party, translated by Jeremy Tiang

How to cite:Β Blumberg-Kason, Susan. “A Rich Tapestry for Tomorrow’s Beijingers: A Review of The Wedding Party.” Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, 5 Jan. 2022, chajournal.blog/2022/01/05/wedding-party/.

Susan Blumberg-Kason.jpg

Susan Blumberg-Kason is the author of Good Chinese Wife: A Love Affair With China Gone Wrong. Her writing has also appeared in the Los Angeles Review of Booksβ€˜ China Blog, Asian Jewish Life, and several Hong Kong anthologies. She received an MPhil in Government and Public Administration from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Blumberg-Kason now lives in Chicago and spends her free time volunteering with senior citizens in Chinatown. (Photo credit: Annette Patko)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s