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Countryside in Shen Congwen’s Xiaxiao, Border Town and Mo Yan’s Red Sorghum Term Paper

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Updated: Sep 16th, 2019


Countryside is a rich aspect that has been incorporated in literature by most Chinese scholars. Despite the fact that there are variations in manner of countryside representation based on period of literature, there are common patterns adopted. Some patterns raise concerns while others are uncontroversial.

The essay will highlight ways that countryside has been represented in Chinese literature. Two novels by Shen Congwen and one by Mo Yan will be discussed. Countryside is ideal home that should be reverenced and not modified. Novels to be discussed are Xiaxiao, Border Town and Red Sorghum.

Background Information

Writers are influenced by social structures that they operate in. Mon Yan and Shen Congwen are examples of writers who sought to represent aspect of countryside in their literature. Both of them identified with countryside and sought to represent it as an ideal place. Ideal quality was based on purity of nature that was associated with productivity and fertility.

Despite the fact that both writers sought to connect with their homelands, they did so in different ways. The essay will expound on how countryside is represented in the three pieces of literature.


Shen Congwen is one of Chinese scholars who have been accredited for use of countryside setup in literature. He contrasts countryside with city, in his novel named Xiaoxiao. He represents countryside as a place with utmost freedom evidenced by his statement that there are many rules in the city even for the beggars. In this regard, countryside is represented as a very attractive place. He highlights degree of hostility in the city and blames it on rules.

Despite the fact that he represents the countryside as a place of freedom, there are many barriers based on tradition that contradict Congwen’s perceptions. The countryside is however better since there are no rules and people find ways to deal with traditions. For instance, Xiaoxiao’s uncle’s is not influenced by existing “mies” that are meant to govern the people, as he makes his own decision. In this regard, people in the countryside have more strength than those in the city, because they can make their own decisions.

Xiaoxiao is carried by wave of nature and puts no effort or intention. In this regard, countryside should remain unchanged and purity of nature should be emphasized.

The narrative represents countryside that assumes purity and innocence, with no form of manipulation in her growth. Notably, justice is realized effortlessly. Despite the fact that traditional aspects can be repressive, residents of countryside always find a way to cope. For instance, villagers have a choice of opposing established laws so as to ensure that certain aspects are incorporated.

Border Town

In Shen Congwen’s Border Town, controversial aspects in element of countryside are represented. For instance, prostitutes and sailors encounter many challenges and disaster in the countryside. Predicament can be interpreted as a way of getting even with those who attempt to destroy countryside’s environment.

People in the countryside are aware of the fact that the river drowns those who are wicked and immoral. In this regard, water is perceived to have ultimate power, and people do not complain even in events of calamities. During floods, victims remain silent and do not complain. The river had a function of supporting the living as well as the dead. Tragedies or suffering caused by natural disasters were perceived as fate that could not be changed. Countryside is thus an ideal home, since spirits of ancestors stay with the living.

The narrative emphasizes on need to reside in countryside, since it cleanses land off evil and immorality. Countryside is a place where immorality is not tolerated. Cuicui is significantly influenced by countryside, according to the novel. She lived in a ferry boat with his grandfather and was named after bamboo bushes that surrounded the river.

Countryside shapes her love life as she identifies the river with his grandfather and her lover. Storm, which was an element of nature, revealed to Cuicui that her mother had also been buried in the river. Her lover uses the river as a bridge to reach other parts of the region. The more Cuicui learns the more she assumes an adult approach. In this regard, the countryside not only shapes her life, but also gives her a sense of identity and belonging.

Red Sorghum

Mo Yan demonstrates high degree of countryside’s productivity in his novel called Red Sorghum. The novel depicts a grandchild who wants to restructure his grandparents’ lives.

Mo Yan highlights absence of child’s father to represent a traditional gap. In this regard, the child can only comprehend history of his people by identifying with the countryside. The narrative focuses on grandparents of the narrator as well as countryside. Mo Yan uses countryside to symbolize unity or oneness since it is shared by the narrator and his grandparents.

Mo Yan compares blood relation with that of land people reside in. As a matter of fact, the narrator relates better with second wife of his grandfather because they have shared land with her more than his father. Despite the fact that narrator’s second grandmother is not related to the family by blood, she is assigned role of a spokes person for Red Sorghum family. The family identifies with red sorghum in the countryside.

Restructuring process of narrator’s grandparents is accorded much respect and importance. As a matter of fact, it is done in honor of the land. Gaomi’s black soil is associated with fertility and success in countryside. The narrator attempts to illustrate a connection between countryside and lives of individuals.

Countryside is used to highlight theme of romance especially that of narrator’s grandparents. The narrator is sensitive to land in his process of reconstructing lives of his grandparents. For instance, he also emphasizes on reviving red sorghum so as to have a fertile land, a distinct feature of the countryside.

Mo Yan highlights emotional connection that exists between residents of countryside and their land. Further, countryside is represented as a place of abundance. In this regard, legendary attributes of narrator’s grandparents is closely linked with countryside’s abundances. Countryside’s fertility is associated with great acts of narrator’s grandparents, while black soil is associated with spirit of success.

The narrator mentioned that the land was fertile and farmers exhibited great decency and ambition. The narrative highlights the situation in Chinese rural setups. Just like most artists, he highlights abundance of the land so as to represent countryside as the ideal home. Prosperity and success is associated with countryside, so as to make it best place to be.


Both Shen Congwen and Mo Yan associate countryside with abundance and prosperity. Mo Yan associates blood with land in a unique way and attributes success of people to nature of their homeland. According to him, time or distance cannot reduce abundance of countryside. Both authors align attraction and beauty of countryside with purity of nature. They highlight virtues and romance is well entangled with spirit in the land.

Despite the fact that there are certain issues of differences in approaches used by both authors, negative aspects associated with nature are hidden. The scholars represent countryside as pure due to natural aspect. However they fail to give explanation in instances of natural calamities. Natural calamities are interpreted as fate and destiny. For instance, Shen Congwen fails to question people after they associate calamities with destiny.

As a matter of fact, he seems to commend them for their ability to discern nature from fate. According to him, calamities are beyond human description and can only be defined as manipulations of fate. For instance, in Border Town Cuicui awakes to adult’s world that is very complicated after death of his grandfather. Calamities are used to signify limitation of human beings and how they are manipulated by fate.

Mo Yan describes his countryside as caring in contrast to political situation in urbanities that limits lives of people. He acknowledges the fact that human activities have brought adverse effects on the land. His fiction narrative of Red Sorghum advocates for ultimate respect for the land just like his grandparents reverenced their countryside.

Both writers incorporate theme of love in their depiction of countryside. Just like countryside is associated with nature, spontaneous love is also encouraged. For instance marriage in the countryside is not inclined to laws but love. As a matter fact, it is immoral for a relationship to exist without love.

Love is significant in countryside and it is to some extent more important than life. Shen Congwen highlights unplanned love that he compares with love between children, among people in the countryside. Personas are used by both authors as a way of representing their connectedness with countryside. It should be noted that, use of persona was in accordance to existing literature rules in China.

As opposed to fourth generation writers who felt frustrated about their homelands, writers in mid 1980’s sought to identify and reconnect with countryside. In both accounts personas seek their identity in their homelands and perceive them as their world. For instance, Shen Congwen compares water in the countryside with his own behavior. Mo Yan on the other hand, builds on land sensitivity to develop theme of romance in Red sorghum.

Shen Congwen, uses youth to highlight deviation from tradition reverence. He however bridges gap between youth and elderly using life in countryside. Mo Yan illustrates blood relations and highlight normal life that people lead in countryside based on morals and prosperity.

Reconstruction is meant to restore initial situation in the countryside that involved fantasy and romance. Focus is on achieving freedom by disintegrating official rules that tend to make lives of people unbearable. Similarly, Shen Congwen contrasts the unbearable rules in the city that have no aspect of humanity with free people in the countryside who make their own choices.

In Mo Yan’s Red Sorghum, peasantry is associated with interruption of the original landscape that was fertile and large. Focus is on replacement of hybrid sorghum with red sorghum. He believes that spirit of success that was once associated with his countryside still exists.

Despite the fact that red sorghum has been replaced by hybrid sorghum, it still exists in the soils. He will structure lives of his grandparents by recovering spirit of red sorghum that has been destroyed by politics. Mo Yan revealed that black soils were responsible for productivity of countryside and ensured healthy lives for residents. Soil of his countryside plays a crucial role in reconnection process between narrator and his family.

Theme of romance in the countryside is meant to depict attraction in the land as well as comprehend present scenario. In this regard, memory of narrator’s countryside aids in history identification. Despite the fact that red sorghum has been replaced with hybrid sorghum, its strength remains enshrined in the black soils. In this regard, abundance of countryside is only identified and enjoyed by those who identify with it. Countryside is the ideal home as nothing can deprive it off its strength.


Countryside has been adopted as a rich pattern to connect past with present. The three pieces of works demonstrate that countryside is ideal place that requires reverence and not modification. Residents are expected to embrace countryside and refrain from modifying or interfering with it.

Modifications or interferences are seen to bring about failure and limit efficiency of countryside. Focus is on acceptance of natural aspects whether they bring benefits or harm to human beings. Further, countryside is only beneficial to those who relate with it. It defines history and identity of residents. Countryside is associated with abundance and fertility, thus an ideal place. Original homelands feed residents effectively.

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"Countryside in Shen Congwen's Xiaxiao, Border Town and Mo Yan's Red Sorghum." IvyPanda, 16 Sept. 2019, ivypanda.com/essays/countryside/.

1. IvyPanda. "Countryside in Shen Congwen's Xiaxiao, Border Town and Mo Yan's Red Sorghum." September 16, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/countryside/.


IvyPanda. "Countryside in Shen Congwen's Xiaxiao, Border Town and Mo Yan's Red Sorghum." September 16, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/countryside/.


IvyPanda. 2019. "Countryside in Shen Congwen's Xiaxiao, Border Town and Mo Yan's Red Sorghum." September 16, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/countryside/.


IvyPanda. (2019) 'Countryside in Shen Congwen's Xiaxiao, Border Town and Mo Yan's Red Sorghum'. 16 September.

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