Fortress Besieged

wei cheng1

Fortress Besieged (Simplified Chinese: 围城; Traditional Chinese: 圍城; Pinyin: wéi chéng) was written by Qian Zhongshu, published in 1947, and is widely considered one of the masterpieces of twentieth century Chinese literature. The novel is a humorous tale about middle-class Chinese society in the late 1930s. It was made into a popular television series in the early 1990s.

The title is based on a French proverb:

Marriage is like a fortress besieged: those who are outside want to get in, and those who are inside want to get out.
(Le mariage est une forteresse assiégée, ceux qui sont dehors veulent y entrer, ceux qui sont dedans veulent en sortir.)
The novel is known for its acerbic asides, such as describing one young lady in the following way:

At first, they called her “truth” because “the truth is naked”. But then, she’s not actually completely naked. So they amended it to “partial-truth”.

Qian Zhongshu (November 21, 1910 – December 19, 1998) was a Chinese literary scholar and writer, known for his wit and erudition.

Familiar with the whole Western history of ideas, Qian shed new lights on the Chinese classical texts by comparing them with Western works, showing their likeness, or more often their apparent likeness and essential differences.

It is a monumental work of modern scholarship that evinces the author’s great learning and his effort to bring the ancient and the modern, Chinese and Western, into mutual illumination.”

Qian Zhongshu was one of the Chinese authors best known to the Western world. Fortress Besieged has been translated into English, French, German, Russian, Japanese and Spanish.

Besides being one of the great masters of written vernacular Chinese in the 20th century, Qian was also one of the last authors to produce substantial works in classical Chinese. Some regard his choice of writing Guan Zhui Bian in classical Chinese as a challenge to the assertion that classical Chinese is incompatible with modern and Western ideas, an assertion often heard during the May Fourth Movement.