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Lena Henningsen

During the Chinese Cultural Revolution (conventionally dated 1966-1976) the publishing industry came to a standstill. Resources were allocated only for the publication of officially sanctioned material, most prominently the “Little Red Book” containing quotations of Chairman Mao. Entertainment fiction did not count among this as it was considered poisonous for readers and therefore branded counterrevolutionary. While the country was endlessly reciting from the “Little Red Book”, many experienced the era as a cultural desert, or as a book famine. However, not everyone wanted to submit to the intellectual suffering of a cultural desert or a book famine. So throughout the country, clandestine intellectual and literary activities tool place, including literary salons, as well as the writing, reading, copying, and circulating of underground poetry and unofficial handwritten entertainment fiction (手抄本文学 shouchaoben wenxue). The latter circulated, in particular, among the educated urban youth who were sent to the country side from late 1968 onwards. Written mostly on thin notepaper, these “flying books” traveled the country in multiple copies and were re-written into multiple, often differing versions. On this webpage, we present a critical digital edition of two versions of one of these stories Three Times to Nanjing / Three Journeys to Jiangnan.

Bei, Dao [Zhao Zhenkai] 1990: Waves: Stories (transl. by Bonnie S. McDougall and Susette Ternent Cooke, edited by Bonnie S. McDougall), New York: New Directions.

Henningsen, Lena 2017: “What Is a Reader? Participation and Intertextuality in Hand-Copied Entertainment Fiction from the Chinese Cultural Revolution”, in: Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, Vol.29 no.2 (fall 2017), 109-158.

Henningsen, Lena 2019: “Literature of the Cultural Revolution”, in: Gu, Ming Dong [ed.]: Routledge Handbook of Modern Chinese Literature, Oxon: Routledge, 423-434.

Henningsen, Lena 2019: “Handwritten Entertainment Fiction (手抄本)”, in: The Mao Era in Objects,手抄本/, 2019, last access 2022-03-15.

Henningsen, Lena 2021: Cultural Revolution Manuscripts: Unofficial Entertainment Fiction from 1970s China, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Henningsen, Lena, Duncan Paterson 2023: “Authenticity beyond Authority? The Case of Handwritten Entertainment Fiction from the Chinese Cultural Revolution”, in: Anke Hein and Christopher J. Foster [eds.]: Understanding Authenticity in Chinese Cultural Heritage, Abingdon: Routledge, 263-275

Kong, Shuyu 2020: “Between Undercurrent and Mainstream: Hand-copied Literature and Unofficial Culture during and after the Cultural Revolution”, in: Asian Studies Review, Vol. 44, no.2, 239-257; DOI: 10.1080/10357823.2020.1726877.

Link, Perry 1989: “Hand-Copied Entertainment Fiction from the Cultural Revolution,” in: Perry Link, Richard Madsen, Paul Pickowicz [eds.]: Unofficial China. Popular Culture and Thought in the People’s Republic, Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 17-36.

Nielsen, Inge 2002: “Prized Pulp Fiction: Hand-copied Literature from the Cultural Revolution”, in: China Review International, Vol. 9, no.2, 344-356.

Zhang Yang 张扬1999: The Literary Inquisition of “The Second Handshake”《第二次握手》文字狱, Beijing: Zhongguo shehui chubanshe.

Zhao Zhenkai 赵振开 [Bei Dao 北岛] 1985: Waves 波动, Hong Kong: Chinese University Press.

Lena Henningsen (PI and contents), Duncan Paterson (concept), Qin Gu (programming), Xiayin Dang (transcriptions)

Three Times to Nanjing / Three Journeys to Jiangnan are variations to a spy story detailing the (alleged) background of the Lin Biao affair. While there exist numerous copies of the Three Journeys to Jiangnan version, with only minor differences across them, Three Times to Nanjing is unique insofar as its plot takes a number of different turns and insofar as it contains an aesthetically rendered title page as well as a postscript chronicling when and where it was written down and copied out. The plot summaries point to differences and variations across the two versions.

Three Journeys to JiangnanThree Times to Nanjing
The main part of the story takes place in Nanjing, in the days preceding the Lin Biao affair of September 13, 1971.A long prologue (making up about a fourth of the text) to the story relates a mysterious incident on Nanjing Bridge over the Changjiang, which took place, as the reader will later learn, a year before. As a group of researchers from Albania visit the bridge, a car passes by, and, subsequently, one of the men’s watches stops working. As this is presumably the work of enemy spies, the incident is reported to the higher authorities in Beijing. Agent 3 is dispatched, but vanishes, and so does his successor, Agent 5. Before leaving, Agent 5 recommends Ye Fei 叶飞 as a potential successor to this mission, so Ye Fei is called to the capital and then sent to Nanjing. On the train journey the enemy unsuccessfully tries to assassinate him.This story also begins with the incident on the bridge. However, it is explicitly dated spring 1970 (February 8), and the researcher’s watch resumes working soon after. This reminds the officers of an earlier mysterious event, an attempted assassination of the Cambodian Prince Sihanouk during his visit to the bridge. Following a report to Beijing, Agent 5 (Chen Zhanxiang 陈占祥) is sent to Nanjing, but disappears soon after. Before leaving, he has recommended Yu Fei 余飞 as a potential successor to this mission, so Yu Fei is called to the capital and then sent to Nanjing. (On his trip to Beijing the enemy tries to assassin him, but he escapes.)
The first trip to Jiangnan: whilst investigating the disappearance of his colleagues, Ye Fei survives two attempts by the enemy to poison him. He flees the enemy, hides in a coffin in a morgue and returns to Beijing by plane to report.The first trip to Nanjing: Yu Fei travels to Nanjing via Hohhot. The enemy makes one unsuccessful attempt to poison him, then decides to monitor him. Yu uses a microrecorder (a precious high-tech device produced in West Germany, of which only four exist in China) to collect evidence against the enemy and reports on this after his return to Beijing.
The second trip to Jiangnan: during this trip Ye Fei receives assistance from Xu Shiyou 许世友, an older colleague. A mysterious house in a forest turns out to be inhabited by the spies. Ye Fei enters, discovers Agent 5, and saves him. The house is subsequently thoroughly inspected. Again, the adventure ends with Ye’s return to Beijing and his report.The second trip to Nanjing: Yu Fei is sent to investigate the suicide of the young woman involved in the poison attack and the surveillance. Yu finds a mysterious house in the forest area in the vicinity of the Sun Yat-sen mausoleum (Zhongshanling area). This turns out to be inhabited by the spies. Yu Fei enters, discovers Chen Zhanxiang and saves him. Again, the adventure ends with Yu’s return to Beijing and his report.
The third trip to Jiangnan: this chapter turns the focus on Zhang Yannian 张延年 and his experiences during the past year. Having refused the order to go down to the countryside, Zhang Yannian has spent most of his time drifting around town, spending much of his time in a café. There, he is tricked into joining what later turns out to be a fake liberation army that plans an assault on both Nanjing Bridge and on Mao Zedong (who is expected to be on a train crossing the bridge). Thanks to Zhang’s mistrust and courageousness, the assassination is prevented. Ye Fei returns to Beijing for another report, and the episode ends with a remark about the Lin Biao affair, thus linking the fictional plot to a real-life event.The third trip to Nanjing: during an evening event Yu Fei spots Lin Liguo accompanied by a female spy. A trace leads to Wang Zhen 王贞, who is arrested and then reports about his life during interrogation. Years before, fearing the hardship of being sent to the countryside, he became a hoodlum (liumang 流氓). After stealing from a canteen, he was tricked into joining what later turned out to be a fake liberation army. He was supposed to begin by assassinating his own parents, which, however, in the end did not happen, and then execute an attack on both Nanjing Bridge and Mao Zedong. Yu Fei returns to Beijing to report.
The story then ends with a brief epilogue narrating an episode some days before when two officers observed Mrs. Bai – one of the spies – in the company of Lin Liguo 林立果, the son of Lin Biao.A brief paragraph links the story to the Lin Biao affair and with this it ends the story.

Source: Henningsen 2021

For a more detailed comparison of the two texts, please consult the digital edition provided on this page, or see my earlier analysis (Henningsen 2021 79-91). For a detailed discussion of the digital edition, see also (Henningsen and Paterson 2023).


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