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Jin Yucheng: New novel sparks interest in dialect literature

Editor and writer Jin Yucheng(金宇澄) says he hopes his novel, Blossoms(《繁花》), written in the Shanghai dialect, can help protect the language. Photo: China Daily

A newly published novel written in the Shanghai dialect has aroused much interest in using the dialect in literature.

Jin Yucheng, 61, a senior editor of Shanghai Literature, saturated his 300,000-word novel Blossoms with Shanghai flavor by writing it in the local dialect.

The novel depicts the lives of Shanghai people in two periods: from the 1960s to the end of the "cultural revolution" (1966-76) and from the 1980s to the start of the 21st century. The two periods appear alternately throughout the novel, presenting a panorama of old Shanghai and its changes through 30 years.

The story is made up of many independent stories, which link up as the lives of the main characters unfold.

In the novel, Jin creates his unique narration by using dialogue to reveal the plot and portray characters. The sentences are short, the language clear and the dialogue written without quotation marks.

"These are actually the traditional narration characteristics of Chinese literature," Jin said. "They are rarely used today, which makes them special.

"Every writer should have his or her own unique language and mine is the Shanghai dialect in Blossoms," he said, adding that the tendency of language homogeneity is harmful for novel writing.

Blossoms can be read through fluently and vividly with the Shanghai dialect, while posing no obstacle to readers outside of the city.

"The language of Blossoms is not exactly pure Shanghai dialect," Jin said. During writing, he left out some slang and dialects difficult to express in the written language so that Mandarin speakers could understand.

Zheng Li, an editor with the Shanghai Literature and Art Publishing House, said that what makes the language of Blossoms so special is that it's similar to Putonghua, so that readers from the northern part of China can taste the intense aroma of the Shanghai flavor. Although, there are still some difficult to understand areas that only local readers can appreciate.

Blossoms won top prize at the Chinese Literature Media Awards this April and ranked first in the China Novel Association's 2012 list of Novels of the Year.

It is possible that the novel's success will influence more writers to write in the Shanghai dialect, but Jin admitted that it was no easy task.

"You have to think in the context of the Shanghai dialect and recreate the language so that readers outside of Shanghai can understand it, which involves a lot of research and practice," he said.

Before Blossoms, another novel written in the Shanghai dialect titled Lane by author Hu Baotan, 34, was published in 2011. Unlike Blossoms, Lane is more difficult for readers outside of Shanghai, who must refer to the annotation and pronunciation at the end of each story.

Many renowned Chinese writers would use some dialects in their works to add local flavor. For example, Jia Pingwa wrote his Qin Opera with a lot of obscure dialect and idioms of Shaanxi province, and nearly all of Beijing writer Wang Shuo's novels have strong marks of the Beijing dialect, which make the works vivid and amusing.


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