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The King of Trees: Three Novellas: The King of Trees, The King of Chess, The King of Children

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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 miseri 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. The King of Trees is a masterpiece of world literature, full of passion and noble emotions that stir the inner chambers of the heart.


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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 miseri 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. The King of Trees is a masterpiece of world literature, full of passion and noble emotions that stir the inner chambers of the heart.

30 review for The King of Trees: Three Novellas: The King of Trees, The King of Chess, The King of Children

  1. 4 out of 5

    Vlad Kovsky

    I have only read The King of Trees. Will now look for the other two novellas. The King of Trees is an excellent novella about disrupting of human connection with nature, which inevitably leads to death. The events are set during the time of Cultural revolution in China. The absurdity of events and actions magnifies the effect of the story on the reader.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Stephen Durrant

    Each of Ah Cheng's three novellas, included in this edition under the title "The King of Trees," is a first-person narrative told by an educated youth who has been "sent down" to work in the countryside during the Cultural Revolution. What sets them apart from so much literature depicting the same period is that the terrible political chaos of the time forms a backdrop rather than the central focus of the narratives. Moreover, Ah Cheng in each novella engages and utilizes themes and images from Each of Ah Cheng's three novellas, included in this edition under the title "The King of Trees," is a first-person narrative told by an educated youth who has been "sent down" to work in the countryside during the Cultural Revolution. What sets them apart from so much literature depicting the same period is that the terrible political chaos of the time forms a backdrop rather than the central focus of the narratives. Moreover, Ah Cheng in each novella engages and utilizes themes and images from the Chinese tradition. Both "The King of Trees" and "The King of Chess" can be regarded as rereadings of Daoism in a modern setting. The large and useless but profoundly symbolic tree in the first story is drawn directly from "Zhuangzi." But however much this tree is admired, unlike its Zhuangzian antecedent, it does not escape the ideology of progress and a tragic desire to eradicate the past. The second story, about a young man who pursues perfection through chess, draws upon the "Zhuangzi" image of the impassive figure who has through concentration merged with the Dao. Ah Cheng's third novella, in which a young student copies an entire dictionary, uses the Confucian emphasis upon intense study and recasts it in a poor village where any written text, other than propaganda, is a precious commodity. These stories are all told in a direct, engaging manner and are deeply moving. For anyone tired of the uniformly political tone of so much modern Chinese literature, this Ah Cheng collection will bring relief.

  3. 5 out of 5

    JakeR

    At the time of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, or any revolution or war in this matter, there are always ones that had to be pulled away from the old world. The masters of their own fields all pulled into the tide of a new revolution. Sometimes some brave souls survived and fought against this revolution, but there are many who lost. Who can survive in this revolution becomes less of who is the one with the truth, but more of the one with the most power. Traditions all revolutionized, but some At the time of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, or any revolution or war in this matter, there are always ones that had to be pulled away from the old world. The masters of their own fields all pulled into the tide of a new revolution. Sometimes some brave souls survived and fought against this revolution, but there are many who lost. Who can survive in this revolution becomes less of who is the one with the truth, but more of the one with the most power. Traditions all revolutionized, but some masters still survive. And they are the ones talked about in this book. A very interesting book.

  4. 4 out of 5

    lukoto

    之前看韩少功觉得“革命意识”的气息太浓厚,以至于对“寻根文学”都有少许疑惑。因为关注八十年代看了阿城,可谓震撼,将人物人世刻画得如此饱满和鲜活。每一篇里面都涉及了太多的主题,都值得再读和思考。

  5. 4 out of 5

    John Armstrong

    Other reviewers have done a good job of describing the cultural/historical setting of the three stories and their main themes and characters. I’ll just add that the feel of the stories is very distinctive and, really, unlike anything I can remember reading before. They remind me of Chinese ink paintings that present boldly characterized figures against very sparsely sketched backgrounds. And for all their ostensible concreteness there is something rarefied about them that makes them seem more li Other reviewers have done a good job of describing the cultural/historical setting of the three stories and their main themes and characters. I’ll just add that the feel of the stories is very distinctive and, really, unlike anything I can remember reading before. They remind me of Chinese ink paintings that present boldly characterized figures against very sparsely sketched backgrounds. And for all their ostensible concreteness there is something rarefied about them that makes them seem more like parables or allegories than realistic narratives, however much truth or fiction they may contain. All three center on heroic characters – an almost superhumanly strong ex-soldier in King of Trees, a precocious child who copies an entire dictionary in King of Children, and an eccentric chess genius in King of Chess. In each story the narrator becomes increasingly fascinated with the central character and befriends him and gets to know him. The relationships that develop are not particularly complex or nuanced, but they’re primary elements of the stories, while all others are at best secondary (including a relationship, evidently romantic, between the narrator and a female teacher in The King of Children). Of the three stories The King of Chess is definitely the best. In fact I believe it’s counted as a major work of Modern Chinese literature. The author’s language is said to be unusual and interesting. I don’t know how well the New Directions translation conveys this quality, but it is certainly readable, and the edition gives you a great story and two more that are worth reading.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Alex

    These novellas seem to express a deep longing for some kind of feudal/imperial past ("King"), or at least for the potential for there to be "kings" even at times of great leveling. It is class A science fiction. King of Trees and King of Children are okay. The critiques of the state's inability to modernize the ruralfolk (blind industrial ground-clearing in the former, formalistic classroom education in the latter) are well-taken, I suppose. They ask the question of whether or how the old Daoist These novellas seem to express a deep longing for some kind of feudal/imperial past ("King"), or at least for the potential for there to be "kings" even at times of great leveling. It is class A science fiction. King of Trees and King of Children are okay. The critiques of the state's inability to modernize the ruralfolk (blind industrial ground-clearing in the former, formalistic classroom education in the latter) are well-taken, I suppose. They ask the question of whether or how the old Daoist classics, which valorize and idealize the rustic and the natural, speak to contemporary issues. I like the King of Chess a lot, mainly because it gives the narrator an opportunity to talk to a subaltern about food and literary interpretations of eating. It is a strange Cultural Revolution literature that is not interested in madness, irony, trauma, violence, hierarchy, revolution. It takes comfort in a contemplative vision of life's absurdity and of simple pleasures. The afterword is neat. It talks about Zhong Acheng's life story, his imitation of a Daoist hermit, and his linguistic amalgamation of revolutionary slogan and classical idiom.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Ioana

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. 3 nuvele geniale in care sunt descrise capacitatea omului de a evolua. Am rezonat foarte mult cu Regele Copiilor datorita trecutului meu dar si experientei ca si professor de engleza in China. M-a impresionat la lacrimi determinarea si ambitia lui Wang Fu pentru cunoastere cat si admiratia pentru tatal lui. Regele Copacilor, o nuvela care se axeaza pe legatura dintre om si natura. Atat Regele Copacilor, copacul, cat si Regele Copacilor, Xiao Geda, ajung in final sa dispara lasand loc altor “copac 3 nuvele geniale in care sunt descrise capacitatea omului de a evolua. Am rezonat foarte mult cu Regele Copiilor datorita trecutului meu dar si experientei ca si professor de engleza in China. M-a impresionat la lacrimi determinarea si ambitia lui Wang Fu pentru cunoastere cat si admiratia pentru tatal lui. Regele Copacilor, o nuvela care se axeaza pe legatura dintre om si natura. Atat Regele Copacilor, copacul, cat si Regele Copacilor, Xiao Geda, ajung in final sa dispara lasand loc altor “copaci folositori”. Toate 3 nuvele au in comun determinarea omului de a evolua, de a-si depasi conditia umila prin folosirea intelectului.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Elena R.

    Su uno sfondo umile, contadino, nella Cina post rivoluzione culturale si sviluppano le storie di tre "re" così diversi ma simili nella loro semplice grandezza. Tutti e tre i personaggi vivono una sorta di sfida, di riscatto dalla loro posizione sociale umile e limitata. Solo uno dei tre riesce a riscattarsi e a vincere la più grande partita della sua vita (il re degli scacchi) , lo sforzo degli altri due viene stroncato, ma lascia il segno in quelli che ne sono stati testimoni. Su uno sfondo umile, contadino, nella Cina post rivoluzione culturale si sviluppano le storie di tre "re" così diversi ma simili nella loro semplice grandezza. Tutti e tre i personaggi vivono una sorta di sfida, di riscatto dalla loro posizione sociale umile e limitata. Solo uno dei tre riesce a riscattarsi e a vincere la più grande partita della sua vita (il re degli scacchi) , lo sforzo degli altri due viene stroncato, ma lascia il segno in quelli che ne sono stati testimoni.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Roxana Cosmina

    ce

  10. 4 out of 5

    Brian Shih

    The original Chinese version was brilliant- loved it.

  11. 4 out of 5

    0027_r

    三个故事均以文革为背景,带着特定的时代特征。但那几个看上去似乎有些怪异的人物和他们那朴素而珍贵的品质却是永恒的。 不造作 有些细节超自然 安静地讲着故事 引人入胜。

  12. 5 out of 5

    Phuong

    Semplice e bello

  13. 4 out of 5

    Larry

    I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. Considering that all three stories center around educated youth sent into the countryside during the Cultural Revolution, and that they were well received even in official channels in China, I half-expected to have to peel through a layer of political whitewash to find the essence of the stories. Instead, Ah Cheng offers three gentle yet uncompromising slices of life in the work camps, each of which questions the motivations behind their assignmen I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. Considering that all three stories center around educated youth sent into the countryside during the Cultural Revolution, and that they were well received even in official channels in China, I half-expected to have to peel through a layer of political whitewash to find the essence of the stories. Instead, Ah Cheng offers three gentle yet uncompromising slices of life in the work camps, each of which questions the motivations behind their assignments--clearing mountains of every last "useless" tree, rote education, and more. What makes this book so moving is the characters, presented so large on the page, filled with warmth and the kinds of motivations, doubts, and petty squabbling that anyone can relate to in such a setting. Without engaging in philosophizing, each character grapples with the ethical basis of the tasks at hand, and that makes them deeply human. The translator set herself a difficult task, as she mentions in her notes. She wanted to make the stories readable to people who are not knowledgeable about Chinese history, philosophy, and literature, while wanting to preserve Ah Cheng's tight, expressive prose. The result is not fluid, modern English idiom. It reads like a translation. But that only makes the sentences inhabit the page with more power.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Linda

    I had previously read one of these three novellas - The King of Chess, The King of Trees, and The King of Children, and have seen films (one of which I'm subtitling) based on two of them. They were iconic novels written in 1980s China. The three novellas all take place in the Cultural Revolution, among the 'educated youth' (typically just high school students) sent to the countryside to help 'construct the borderlands' and be 're-educated' by the peasants. Rereading them now has reminded me of t I had previously read one of these three novellas - The King of Chess, The King of Trees, and The King of Children, and have seen films (one of which I'm subtitling) based on two of them. They were iconic novels written in 1980s China. The three novellas all take place in the Cultural Revolution, among the 'educated youth' (typically just high school students) sent to the countryside to help 'construct the borderlands' and be 're-educated' by the peasants. Rereading them now has reminded me of their richness and the subtle brilliance of Ah Cheng's writing and observation of human nature and society. Truly magnificent, and not a little Daoist. Bonnie MacDougall has translated these under the title The King of Trees: Three Novellas, if you can't read them in the original Chinese. (I haven't read the translation, so can't comment, but she has had a lot of experience in translating writers of that generation.)

  15. 4 out of 5

    Andreea Astefanei

    O poveste frumoasă despre transcenderea realității cu ajutorul artei sau a șahului; O poveste frumoasă despre reclădirea lumii prin foc, după o nouă ordine; O poveste frumoasă despre ce înseamnă cu adevărat educația - parcurgerea mecanică a unui manual sau grija la ce se sădește în mintea celuilalt. Trei povești prin care se critică regimul și noua societate

  16. 4 out of 5

    Dar

    (Letto solo Il re degli alberi)

  17. 4 out of 5

    Julian Mok

    在看理想app上听董浩读完了整本

  18. 4 out of 5

    I-330

    The King of Trees: 4 stars The King of Children: 5 stars

  19. 4 out of 5

    Ge Wu

    The impressive concise sentences came from an author with real talent and life experience.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Yee

    (tr. Bonne S. McDougall). I especially liked "The King of Children". (tr. Bonne S. McDougall). I especially liked "The King of Children".

  21. 4 out of 5

    Cogan Chou

    4.5

  22. 5 out of 5

    读了一天就读完这薄薄一本,《棋王》感觉写的一般有点像传奇小说,《树王》和《孩子王》给我的感触最大。 《树王》中,“革命”和“树”、和“人”、和“自然”的关系,革命要砍树,树王要护树。在山火里挣扎着烧死的麂子,也是那一个个知青的一个侧影。 《孩子王》是文革末期知青下乡生活和当时乡村教育的缩影,故事无尾,更添一丝悲凉。

  23. 4 out of 5

    Violet Young

    《孩子王》裡面所談的教育,給予我一份理解的痛。其中的老師,因為按學生的需求而教,忽略了教育部的教材而丟了飯碗。這給了我一份盼望,因為只要能夠應付死板的教育機器,老師真的能夠幫到學生。我能成為這樣的老師嗎?

  24. 5 out of 5

    Miloski

    Durante la rivoluzione culturale maoista milioni di “giovani istruiti”, ovvero ragazzi con un basso livello di istruzione ma indottrinati dai libri di Mao e di Lenin, vennero deportati in remoti villaggi rurali della Cina per essere “rieducati dalle masse”, disboscare il territorio e renderlo coltivabile. Tra questi giovani ci fu anche Zhong Acheng, che negli anni successivi, sulla base di quella esperienza giovanile, scrisse i tre racconti lunghi riuniti nella Trilogia dei re, un libro che, pur Durante la rivoluzione culturale maoista milioni di “giovani istruiti”, ovvero ragazzi con un basso livello di istruzione ma indottrinati dai libri di Mao e di Lenin, vennero deportati in remoti villaggi rurali della Cina per essere “rieducati dalle masse”, disboscare il territorio e renderlo coltivabile. Tra questi giovani ci fu anche Zhong Acheng, che negli anni successivi, sulla base di quella esperienza giovanile, scrisse i tre racconti lunghi riuniti nella Trilogia dei re, un libro che, pur poco conosciuto dal vasto pubblico, è considerato un classico della narrativa cinese contemporanea: perché è una importante testimonianza della Cina maoista e, insieme, un'opera narrativa che coinvolge e fa riflettere su questioni che sono ancora – e sempre più – attuali.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Ha

    Prior to reading "The King of Trees" by Ah Cheng, my only knowledge of the Cultural Revolution and Mao Zedong's communist rule in general was simply hell. Even so, all three stories that composed this novella were extremely magnificent with the incorporation of various historical backgrounds. This was especially true when it came to the description of China's rural population in the past regarding the living standards of the people or even their Chinese culture. Rather than demonstrating a more Prior to reading "The King of Trees" by Ah Cheng, my only knowledge of the Cultural Revolution and Mao Zedong's communist rule in general was simply hell. Even so, all three stories that composed this novella were extremely magnificent with the incorporation of various historical backgrounds. This was especially true when it came to the description of China's rural population in the past regarding the living standards of the people or even their Chinese culture. Rather than demonstrating a more aggressive and negative approach to the Culture Revolution which I had initially anticipated, the stories gave off an unexpected sweet and touching sensation as one completed each story.

  26. 4 out of 5

    TwinFitzgeraldKirkland

    Delicatissimo... Una triade di racconti agrodolci sullo sfondo della Cina della rivoluzione culturale. Tre protagonisti che riscopriranno qualcosa di più grande degli ideali imposti dall'alto grazie a incontri casuali che cambieranno per sempre la loro vita. Una recensione fatta più a modino con una dose abbondante di contestualizzazione storica la trovate come al solito su: Delicatissimo... Una triade di racconti agrodolci sullo sfondo della Cina della rivoluzione culturale. Tre protagonisti che riscopriranno qualcosa di più grande degli ideali imposti dall'alto grazie a incontri casuali che cambieranno per sempre la loro vita. Una recensione fatta più a modino con una dose abbondante di contestualizzazione storica la trovate come al solito su:

  27. 4 out of 5

    Iulia

    Written in a very simple narrative, the book contains three unrelated stories, capturing the cultural revolution in China, focusing on the status of intellectuals sent to physical work for the purpose of mass reeducation. The 3 kings (of chess, of trees, of children) are three stories about growing up in a society where mentoring, when done outside the settings of the commonly validated political & social framework, is a dangerous attitude, for both mentor & apprentice. A book about the strife to Written in a very simple narrative, the book contains three unrelated stories, capturing the cultural revolution in China, focusing on the status of intellectuals sent to physical work for the purpose of mass reeducation. The 3 kings (of chess, of trees, of children) are three stories about growing up in a society where mentoring, when done outside the settings of the commonly validated political & social framework, is a dangerous attitude, for both mentor & apprentice. A book about the strife to develop individually, in a society dominated by class and group conformity norms.

  28. 4 out of 5

    TomF

    An interesting take on the 'Cultural Revolution', with the emphasis on personal relationships built during that time, and all the depravities and excesses cast merely as backdrop. The first of the three stories struck me as more of a parable, and was in some ways the least effective for all that (I don't think even the hardiest soul can kick a whetstone in two). The idea of recreating that time with a 'ground level' approach is still pretty effective though. 3.5(+) An interesting take on the 'Cultural Revolution', with the emphasis on personal relationships built during that time, and all the depravities and excesses cast merely as backdrop. The first of the three stories struck me as more of a parable, and was in some ways the least effective for all that (I don't think even the hardiest soul can kick a whetstone in two). The idea of recreating that time with a 'ground level' approach is still pretty effective though. 3.5(+)

  29. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Fairweather

    This trio of novellas was pretty good, but I wasn't absolutely taken by it despite Ah Cheng's subject being very interesting. "King of Chess," with its bizarre character who *drinks life like water and death like wine* for his love of chess, definitely stands out. What was missing from the other two? Nothing, maybe. It could be just my attention lately. I won't be filing any complaints any time soon, anyhow. This trio of novellas was pretty good, but I wasn't absolutely taken by it despite Ah Cheng's subject being very interesting. "King of Chess," with its bizarre character who *drinks life like water and death like wine* for his love of chess, definitely stands out. What was missing from the other two? Nothing, maybe. It could be just my attention lately. I won't be filing any complaints any time soon, anyhow.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Wendy Yu

    It's clear that the Cultural Revolution was THE defining event in my parents' formative years. They carry the scars of those years -- real scars -- like I do my middle and high school clique wars. I wanted to read this to understand them better, and despite the fact that neither of them is a Daoist soulful overly-sensitive savant, I think it did the job. Book dish: vegetable soup It's clear that the Cultural Revolution was THE defining event in my parents' formative years. They carry the scars of those years -- real scars -- like I do my middle and high school clique wars. I wanted to read this to understand them better, and despite the fact that neither of them is a Daoist soulful overly-sensitive savant, I think it did the job. Book dish: vegetable soup

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