Chen Ran was born in April 1962 in Beijing. As a child she studied music, but when she was eighteen her interest turned to literature. She graduated from Beijing Normal University at the age of twenty-three with a degree in the humanities and taught there in the Chinese literature department for the next four and a half years, when she moved to the Writers' Publishing House, where she has worked as an editor ever since. She has lectured as an exchange scholar in Chinese literature at Melbourne University in Australia, the University of Berlin in Germany, and London, Oxford, and Edinburgh universities in the UK. She is a member of the Chinese Writers' Association, and currently lives in Beijing.
Her published works include the short stories "Paper Scrap," "The Sun Between My Lips," "No Place to Say Good-bye," "Yesterday's Wine," "Talking to Myself," Forbidden Vigil," "Secret Story," "Standing Alone in the Draft," the novel A Private Life, and a collection of essays, Bits and Pieces. Some of her fiction has been published and reviewed in England, the United States, Germany, Japan, and Korea, as well as in Hong Kong and Taiwan. The film Yesterday s Wine, based on her short story of the same name, was chosen for showing at the Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing in 1995.
A four-volume Collected Works of Chen Ran was published by the Jiangsu Art and Literature Publishing House in August 1998.
In 2001 the Writers' Publishing House published its six-volume series The Works of Chen Ran.
In the 1980s, she won acclaim for her short story "Century Sickness," seen variously as "pure" or "avant-garde" fiction, and became the newest representative of serious female writers in the country at that time. Through the 1990s and beyond, her work has been leaning more and more toward the psychological and philosophical as she explores loneliness, sexual love, and human life.
Throughout her writing career, she has been a kind of disturbance on the perimeter of mainstream Chinese literature, a unique and important female voice. She has won a number of prizes, such as the first Contemporary China Female Creative Writer's Award.
Set against a backdrop of the decades that included the Cultural Revolution and the Tian'anmen Square Incident, A Private Life, Chen's only novel to date, is not so much a story about the social change and political turbulence of those times as it is about their effect on the protagonist's inner life as she moves from childhood to early maturity. As a result, it is a genuine and compellingly personal human story, from beneath which unobtrusively emerges a powerful and moving political and feminist statement.
Breaking from her previous work, in which she laid great emphasis on plot development and philosophical speculation, in this novel Chen Ran layers over the narrative line with a great number of seemingly disconnected interior monologues, fragmentary recollections, and reveries that flit back and forth through time and space.
The story flickers forth through a complex, sensual, and threatening setting, exploring from its own angle the below-the-surface, deep, and subtle changes that were taking place in Chinese women's consciousness from the 1970s through to the 1990s. It also reflects the complex social life of that time, creating a broad image of feminine conciousness over these decades. Chen Ran's unique and personal postmodern feminist story has created a different and very challenging image of women within Chinese literature of the 1990s.
The translation is based on the 1996 Writers' Publishing House edition, but includes some changes and additions requested by the author and a few corrections in detail suggested to the author by the translator.
Publication History of A Private Life
March 1996, published by Writers' Publishing House
1998, published by Hong Kong Universal Publishing Co., Ltd.
October 1998, published by Taiwan Maitian Co., Ltd.