Hong Ying- An Art of Love without art and without love

ethnic china

Hong Ying- An Art of Love without art and without love

In Brief: A scandalous novel that fails to shock, and an art of love that is conspicuous by its absence.

Already from the beginning, we know that this is a love story without a future because the novel begins with the death of the protagonist, hit by a bomb while driving an ambulance in the Battle of Brunete, in the Spanish Civil War, so we already know that the novel is going to be a description of the success and subsequent failure of a love story. There is no surprise for the reader, only to wait for the events.

These unfold in a predictable way. The poet Julian Bell is a professor at Wuhan University, and Lin, his lover, a writer who is the wife of the dean of the university, therefore one of the first people with whom the protagonist makes acquaintance.

The attraction between the two protagonists follows steps that do not present any dynamic or narrative difficulty, the theoretical superiority of the man, younger but with more amorous experiences, is soon seen to be only theoretical.

Finally, their passion is satisfied in Beijing, where she has traveled to get away from her husband, and he to meet her. There follow descriptions in which the sexual experiences of the lovers the writer tries to describe with a crudeness for which the author’s imagination is not capable, and at the same time to frame them in some ancient sexual theories, which are also presented neither with the clarity nor the descriptive beauty that a novel would have demanded, but as an overlapping of concepts left there a little anyway.

The separation to return to their duties in Wuhan is very painful for both of them, so much so that Julian arrives in a state of weakness that forces him to stay in bed and lasts for at least a week until she too returns.

Gradually they find a risky formula to remain lovers again in Wuhan, as their homes are on the university grounds only 10 minutes away, but the relationship is touched by the passage of time and the reality of having lived through better times. The rush, the environment, the social relations, everything is playing against them, without the lovers finding the strength to put an end to it.

The outbreak of the Spanish Civil War awakens Julian from his dream. For he had gone to China to follow his revolutionary ideals and has spent his time loving this writer, a descendant of aristocrats. He decides to join the Red Army and, accredited as a journalist, goes to the front, on the Sichuan border.

In a few lines he discovers that he is neither a good revolutionary nor a good poet, and immediately afterward, just at the lovers’ reunion, they are surprised by Lin’s husband. And he discovers that he is a good Englishman, apologizes and announces his departure for England.

The novel could be interesting but it is not interesting, because the author seems to pay more attention to generate a little scandal with it, as it was generated at the time of his release, and it seems more important to describe with a crudeness that, I repeat, is not, sexual relations, and continuously refer the work to the intellectual lineage in which Julian is framed, the famous Bloomsbury group, which led in the early twentieth century his mother Vanessa Bell, and his aunt Victoria Woolf.

And throughout the work, the reader sees that he could be interested in what she tells, but he is not interested and does not quite understand why this is so. The reality is that the author was not very interested in it either.

At the end of the work, once there is no more scandal to tell, she seems to abandon the characters, not caring much about what happens to them. And as we have already said, more time is spent describing the purchase of some fabrics to send to his mother than in recounting the successive moral dilemmas the protagonist faces when he discovers that he is not fit to participate in the revolution, and has no qualities to be a great poet.

We never saw during his stay in Wuhuan a minimally superficial interest in the political and social situation, not even to inform his mother, always present in the background of his actions, his interest is more superficial than a slightly sensitive tourist would provide, nor to learn about the activities of the communists or other reformist groups at the university, and even when someone draws a hammer and sickle on the blackboard Julian is not more curious and even suspecting that most of the students were full of revolutionary fervor «he saw clearly how naive it would be to join them in playing at revolution. And besides, that campus was too beautiful. It would be a shame to destroy it.»

If these were not Julian Bell’s actual words, it is distasteful to put them in the mouth of someone who a year later would stake his life, and lose it, in pursuit of his revolutionary ideals.

There is no discussion, however brief it may be, on domestic or international politics. And in the end, his whole relationship with the working classes is summed up in his complaints about the service.  And yes, like any marquise in a stereotypical tale, he too is shocked by the poverty he sees at the railway stations. His image is stereotypical, that of the famous white male who is going to star in a scandalous soap opera. And the Chinese part is equally stereotyped, presenting the reader with nothing more than what can be used to bring this relationship to fruition.

That is the reason why the characters are blurred, and why the reader attends with little interest to the development of a relationship full of clichés.

Likewise, Mrs. Lin, abandoned to her fate, both by her lover and by the author, disappears from the scene in a succession of frustrated suicides that are as pathetic for their failure as for their distance from the narrative of the work.

In the end, what will remain of this work are a few details o about the moral freedom of the Bloomsbury Group, the descriptions of the beautiful qipaos with which the protagonist is dressed, and the vague memory that an English poet had an affair with a Chinese writer in 1936.

Hong Ying, K: The Art of Love,  English translation by Nicky Harman and Henry Zhao. London: Marion Boyars, 2002.

To cite this post: Ceinos-Arcones, Pedro, "Hong Ying- An Art of Love without art and without love," in Ethnic China, 10 mayo 2021, https://ethnic-china.com/hong-ying-an-art-of-love-without-art-and-without-love/.

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