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Sheng Keyi

April 15, 2011

This article in the New York Times about Chinese author Sheng Keyi whose recent book Northern Girls is being published in English next year. Sheng’s book is about migrant women and their bodies and I was intrigued by these passages:

Many academic studies, and some overseas works, notably Leslie T. Chang’s “Factory Girls,” have focused on the special challenges facing female migrant workers as they grapple with new freedoms in the cities. Yet Ms. Sheng’s technique of writing through, and about, women’s bodies, is unusually intimate and direct. Her choice of a striking physical attribute for Ms. Qian — unusually large breasts — highlights what she says is a serious issue: How can a poor woman who attracts considerable male sexual attention hold on to her morals in a highly amoral society?

“I wanted to give these girls an exterior sign to symbolize their worries and anxieties as they head into China’s urban society,” Ms. Sheng said.

Qian Xiaohong’s breasts are a boon and a burden. “Like pomelos, while those of her best friend, Li Sijiang, are like tangerines,” Ms. Sheng said. “Of course, a woman with pomelos is going to have a harder time in society than a woman with tangerines.”

Yet Ms. Qian, eager to grasp her freedoms, enjoys her sexuality. This is established on the first page of the novel, as rendered by the Beijing-based translator Eric Abrahamsen: “All the decent girls in the village wore loose clothing and hunched their shoulders — protecting their chests was the first step in protecting their reputations. Only Qian Xiaohong walked with her mounds thrust forward, bearing down mercilessly, like dark clouds threatening a city.”

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