Han Xuanzi, a retired teacher, starts out with knowledge, reputation and economic means far superior to those of Wang Cai, a poor and humble farmer. Wang, however, seizing the historic opportunity of economic reforms and riding on the tide of the times, manages in the end to make his fortune despite numerous attempts by Han to thwart him. The reversal of fortune between Han and Wang is vividly depicted through events unfolding within a short space of one month from mid lunar December to mid lunar January.
According to the author, it is his idea to reflect the significant impact of reform on the peasants’ ideas on life, land and moral principles. This story vividly describes the dramatic events unfolding around that time in Shangzhou, a specific place with local geography, customs and history.
Compared with the author’s other works on similar themes, this story exposes more directly the negative elements in traditional ideas and morals, passing harsh judgment on laggards such as Han Xuanzi. Focusing on the common people at the bottom of society, the author attempts to explore moral, ethical and interpersonal relationship issues through realistic depiction of society.
Lunar December, Lunar January won the 3rd National Outstanding Novella Award.
Jia Pingwa，born in 1952, is a native of Danfeng County, Shangluo City in Shaanxi Province.
Having graduated from the Chinese Language Department of Northwest University in 1975, Jia Pingwa founded the literary journal Essay in 1992, and assumed the position of Dean of School of Humanities at Xi’an University of Architecture and Technology in 2003. He is, now, a member of the Presidium of the Chinese Writers’ Association, Chairman of Shaanxi branch of the organization, and Chairman of Xi’an Literary Federation of Literary and Art Circles. Jia Pingwa started publishing literary works in 1974, First Records of Shangzhou, Turbulence, Ruined City, White Nights,Old Gao Village, Wolves of Yesterday, and Qin Opera are but some of his major pieces.
In 1979, Jia Pingwa won the 1st National Best Short Story of the Year for his short story Full Moon. His novella Lunar December, Lunar January won the 3rd National Best Novella of the Year. Traces of Love won the 1st National Best Prose (Collection), and Jia Pingwa’s Lengthy Prose Selection won the 4th Lu Xun Literature Prize of excellent prose and essays. In 1997, Ruined City was awarded French Prix Femina étranger, and in 1987 Turbulence was recognized by the Pegasus Prize For Literature. Qin Opera won both the 1st Hong Kong The Dream of the Red Chamber Award: The World’s Distinguished Novel in Chinese In 2006 and the 7th Mao Dun Literature Prize in 2008. His works have been translated into over 20 languages including English, French, German, Russian, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese.
The Town of the Four Hermits is well-known in Shangzhou. During the Qin dynasty, four hermits of noble character and great wisdom sought refuge here from the raging political turmoil, eating shelf mushrooms and drinking spring water, leaving the town forever famous in Chinese history.
These days, Han Xuanzi is called “the Fifth Hermit”. Graduated from the county public middle school during the Republic of China era (1911-1949), Han is very knowledgeable indeed. Having taught for thirty-four years, he retired three years ago. He is very content with his life from having so many talented students: one is now county CCP secretary, another important official of regional CCP committee. Da Bei, his eldest son, the first ever in the town to receive a college education, is now a famous journalist in the provincial capital. Upon retirement, the commune appointed him chief of the cultural station. Er Bei, his second son, is now married and has taken over his post to teach at the commune middle school. Ye Zi, his eldest daughter, is married now also. During his leisure time, he reads and sips tea in the courtyard.
Over the past two years, his life has been deteriorating. Er Bei, who becomes disobedient, accuses him of being conservative and advises him to mind his own business. Bai Yin, Er Bei’s wife, following the customs of the city folk, wears slippers, perms her hair and sleeps in late. He parts with Er Bei and drowns his sorrows in alcohol. His wife complains that they are getting poorer by the day and falling further and further behind Wang Cai.
Wang Cai, originally the pauper of the town, is short and skinny. It is rumored that he still wet his bed even after starting school. After his blind mother died, he, due to poverty, experienced much difficulty before finally securing a spouse. His chance, though, came with the beginning of the Reform. At the suggestion of Er Bei, he first tries to sell shelf mushrooms, but fails. However, he finally makes his fortune by running a food-processing plant.
Han is unwilling to give in. Although his daughter has already gone on her honeymoon trip, he still plans to host a wedding banquet according to local custom to demonstrate the respect he commands in the local community. Even though the banquet is scheduled for lunar January the following year, he begins preparations in lunar December.
One morning, on his way to buy liquor, he hears that Wang Cai, occupied with the plant, has subleased his land to Gou Sheng. Back home, he finds Wang Cai waiting for him. Wang Cai wants to buy the four public houses near his home for plant expansion and asks Han to make the enquiry.
Wang Cai shows deep respect for Han as Han was once his teacher and is a local dignitary. Han, however, warns Wang that subleasing the land amounts to exploitation, giving Wang quite a fright. After Wang’s departure, Han goes to inform the commune CCP secretary. The secretary, however, reveals that official document will soon be issued, allowing the sublease of land.
To the spite of Wang Cai, Han decides to buy the houses himself. However, he has not got enough money and is met with objections from both of his sons. Wang finally succeeds in buying the houses. Han is so infuriated that he lies in bed for two days. Again, to spite Wang and those close to him, he refuses to invite Wang, his family and his employees such as Gou Sheng and Tuzi to his daughter’s wedding banquet.
One day, Wang’s employees such as Gou Sheng, after receiving their wages, go to buy liquor and fall into a brawl with Gong Desheng, the shop owner. Han seizes the opportunity and asks the local authorities to severely punish Wang’s employees, warning them of the danger of association with Wang.
Deeply hurt, Wang nevertheless decides to contribute further to the local welfare system. On Chinese New Year’s Eve, Wang hosts a movie showing for the town folk at his own expense. Learning this, Han encourages Gong, the liquor shop owner, to treat the town folk to a show of Shaolin Temple to draw away the crowd.
Er Bei and Bai Yin, deeply discontented with Han’s doings, attend the show hosted by Wang. Holding Er Bei’s hand excitedly, Wang complains that supply of raw materials has been insufficient to meet surging market demands. Er Bai suggests that he apply for the county government’s supply and promises to draft the application for Wang.
On the first day of lunar new year, people start to line up at Han’s door to show their respect and express congratulations as usual and Han is overjoyed. Gift in hand, Wang has to come three times before Han agrees to meet him. Han rejects Wang’s plea to submit the application to the county government. In the end, Er Bei succeeds in this effort through his connections.
On the twelfth day of lunar January, the town troupe is supposed to attend a performance competition at the county level, but is unable to do so due to a shortfall in funding. Fortunately Wang Cai comes to the rescue, volunteering to finance the trip out of his own pocket, a generous gesture for which Han nevertheless shows scant appreciation. The town troupe loses the competition. Humiliated, Han falls sick.
On the fifteenth day of lunar January, the wedding banquet is held at Han’s home. Mr. Wang, the commune CCP secretary, invites Han to come along to welcome Mr. Ma, the county CCP secretary, who is calling on certain households in the town to offer his best wishes for the Chinese New Year. Han, confident that Mr. Ma will call on him, tells his guests as such, winning the admiration of all present. In actuality, however, Mr. Ma is coming to call on Wang Cai following the receipt of his application forwarded by Er Bei. Mr. Ma takes a photo with Wang and invites him personally to attend the county private entrepreneur conference. Many of Han’s guests steal out to watch the scene at Wang’s home. The banquet is turning out to be a flop. Following the departure of Mr. Ma, many in the town apply to join Wang’s plant. Han ages perceptibly following lunar January.
The decline and fall of Han’s fortune fully reflects the impact of changing social-economic circumstances in rural China, which drastically changes interpersonal relationships, thoughts and habits of farmers.