An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Linnüyu 鄰女語

Jan 4, 2024 © Ulrich Theobald

Linnüyu 鄰女語 "Talks of women from the neighbourhood" is a late Qing-period 清 (1644-1911) novel written by a certain Youhuan Yusheng 憂患餘生, who is perhaps identical with Lian Mengqing 連夢青. Lian was friends with Shen Yuxi 沈虞希 and Fang Yaoyu 方藥雨 (1869-1954), the chief editor of the Tianjin journal Riri xinwen 日日新聞.

Based on information provided by Shen Yuxi, Feng Yaoyu revealed events in the palace to the press, which angered Empress Dowager Cixi 慈禧太后 (1835-1908). She had investigate the leak, and Shen Yuxi was finally executed. Lian Mengqing was implicated in the case and was forced to flee to Shanghai, where he made a living by writing and selling literature. Lian was acquainted with Liu E 劉鶚 (1857-1909), the author of the novel Lao Can youji 老殘遊記 "The Travels of Lao Can". Liu E wrote the first review of Lian's Linnüyu. Liu for his part helped Lian Mengqing financially by allowing him to sell his books and novellas. Apart from the Linnüyu, Lian compiled "Anecdotes of the greatest businessman Cobden" (Shangjie di yi weiren: Gebudeng yishi 商界第一偉人——戈布登軼事; on Richard Cobden, 1804-1865) as a revised and polished translation for Chinese students in the United States. He also wrote the novel Guanchang xianxing ji 官場現形記 and was chief editor of the journal Yuandongbao 遠東報.

The novel centers around the so-called "Incident of the year with the cyclical signs Gengzi" (gengzi shibian 庚子事變; the Boxer Uprising in 1900). Its reflects the invasion of China by the Allied Forces of the Eight Powers (baguo liajun 八國聯軍) and the Boxer Rebellion through the story of Jin Jian 金堅, the son of an official, who travelled to the north of China, and his anecdotes about the life and activities of the officialdom. Many of the stories in the novel are based on women's conversations, hence the title.

The novel has a length of 12 chapters and is apparently unfinished. It was first published in the journal Xiuxiang xiaoshuo 繡像小說 (6-10, 13, 15-20; 1903-1904), and was republished in 1913 by the Shangwu Yinshuguan 商務印書館. The Shanghai Wenhua Chubanshe 上海文化出版社 rearranged the text and published the whole novel in 1957.

The first six chapters describe Jin Jian's journey to Beijing, and through the detailed pictures of what he saw and heard along the way, the chaotic landscape of Chinese society at that time is sketched out: On the one hand, the fields were deserted, towns withered, and the people sold their children; on the other hand, high functionaries fled south with their families and abandoned their offices, or committed all sorts of evils under the guise of providing voluntary relief. After the Boxer Rebellion was ruthlessly suppressed, marshal Yuan Shikai 袁世凱 (1859-1916) had supporters of the Boxers executed.

The latter six episodes of the book focus more on the political corruption of the late Qing period, the incompetence of bureaucrats, and their betrayal of the country. Some high officials simply deserted their posts, while others raised food for the German army. In side stories, the novel expresses a kind of political instruction that the court officials only obeyed the foreign armies and forgot all about their loyalty to the Qing dynasty. However, the author also writes that the German army was "compassionate and righteous" (you qing you yi 有情有義) and slanders Zhang Decheng 張德成 (d. 1900), a leader of the Boxers, as a "blackguard and monster" (xing yao zuo guai 興妖作怪).

The novel is well written and good at sketching, for example, the description of the families of the Beijing officials who fled from Qingjiangpu 清江浦 is quite vivid and evocative. However, the structure of the novel is inconsistent, with the first six chapters featuring several protagonists, while the rest of the novel presents not a plot, but embellishments of scenes or circumstances already described.

Hou Zhongyi 侯忠義 (1986). "Linnüyu 鄰女語", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, part Zhongguo wenxue 中國文學 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 1, 429.