When the three novellas in The King of Trees were published
separately in China in the 1980s, Ah Cheng fever spread across the
country. Never before had a fiction writer dealt with the Cultural
Revolution in such Daoist-Confucian terms, discarding Mao-speak,
and mixing both traditional and vernacular elements with an
aesthetic that emphasized not the hardships and miseries of those
years, but the joys of close, meaningful friendships. In The King
of Chess, a student s obsession with finding worthy chess opponents
symbolizes his pursuit of the dao; in The King of Children made
into an award-winning film by Chen Kaige, the director of Farewell
My Concubine an educated youth is sent to teach at an impoverished
village school where one boy s devotion to learning is so great he
is ready to spend 500 days copying his teacher s dictionary; and in
the title novella a peasant s innate connection to a giant primeval
tree takes a tragic turn when a group of educated youth arrive to
clear the mountain forest. As moving and enduring as the best of
Jack London or Knut Hamsun, The King of Trees is as relevant today
as it will be tomorrow.
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