Baptism by Yang Jiang


Yang Jiang. Translated by Judith M. Amory and Yaohua Shi

ISBN : 978-962-209-831-2

Literary Studies

February 2007

300 pages, 5.5″ x 8.5″

  • HK$150.00

Also available in Hardback HK$295.00

The characters in this vivid, witty, and engrossing novel, set in a Beijing literary institute right after the revolution, are a group of intellectuals from the old society adjusting to a new reality. There is a love story, intrigue, back-biting, and deception: familiar circumstances of academic life. But in the end, all must undergo the harrowing ordeal of public confession in the first great purge of the 1950s. As each responds with subterfuge, terror, or humility, they reveal more about their souls than about their politics.

Baptism has wide appeal for general readers, especially those with an interest in China. Written in a direct and fast-moving style with vivid characters and universal plot motifs, it will also be a welcome addition to university courses in modern Chinese literature or Chinese history and politics.

Baptism is the only novel written by the distinguished Chinese woman playwright, essayist, and translator, Yang Jiang. Born in 1911, she has experienced the entire sweep of China’s turbulent twentieth-century history. Passages from this novel have already been quoted, in English, in books about the period. Her memoir of life during the Cultural Revolution has been translated twice and widely read.

Yang Jiang, born in 1911, is one of China’s most eminent playwrights, essayists, memoirists and translators. She studied at Oxford and the Sorbonne during the 1930s, then returned to China where for many years she was a member of the Literary Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. In recent years she has published a translation of Plato’s Phaedo and a memoir of her family, We Three. Baptism is her only novel. It was published in China in 1986, when she was 75, and has been in print ever since.

Judith Amory is a retired Harvard University librarian. She lives in New York and catalogs Chinese language materials for the New York Public Library and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Yaohua Shi teaches Chinese, Chinese literature, and Chinese film at Wake Forest University and has published articles on The Dream of the Red Chamber, The Scholars, the representations of the police in recent Chinese films, and Chinese modernist architecture.

“Playwright, essayist, translator and novelist, Yang Jiang is a legend of modern Chinese literature. With a career spanning more than six decades, Yang has been known for her portraits of Chinese manners in a subtle, sophisticated style. Baptism deals with the mixture of hope and fear that Chinese intellectuals suffered during the first political campaign of the New China. Using her patent style of irony and wit, Yang describes a time that baffled many men and women trying to find a place in a new social order. Even when political fervor and human cruelty is being observed, Yang Jiang never loses her sense of humor and compassion. Baptism is a Chinese masterpiece.” —David Der-wei Wang, Edward C. Henderson Professor of Chinese Literature, Harvard University

“An important contribution to twentieth-century Chinese literature, Baptism’s compelling story of thwarted romance and broad social conflicts set in post-Second-World-War China offers a feminist and humanist critique of the politics of possessive individualism and of the revolutionary ideology of the masses that had set out to overcome it. In this complex portrayal of complicit, although apparently opposed, value worlds, the novel’s ironic, satirical edge both savages a spectrum of Chinese intellectuals scrambling for survival in a new China and yet discovers a moral center in the delicate sensibility of its heroine, a holdover from a pre-Communist era, promising a possible future when individual integrity can be recovered.” —Shirley Geok-lin Lim, Author of Among the White Moon Faces and Sister Swing; Professor, University of California, Santa Barbara

“Set in the early years after the Communist revolution, Baptism is at once a satirical indictment of intellectuals—whose hypocrisy, pettiness, and arrogance might seem to justify the need for a political ‘cleansing’—and a sympathetic portrait of how they cope with a new and nasty political culture that demands ideological purity and uniformity. The novel is both humorous and terrifying.” —Kirk A. Denton, Associate Professor, The Ohio State University