Ran Chen and her father Wo Weihan
b. 1962, Beijing
A writer of psychological novels, Chen Ran is known as the only Chinese woman writer who identifies herself as a feminist. Chen started to publish in 1985 and toured England, Australia and Germany before she returned and settled down in Beijing as a freelance writer. As one of the few writers of avant-garde/experimental literature in China, she presents herself as writing from the margin even after she became a member of the Chinese Writers’ Association in 1990. Since the publication of her short story The Disease of the Century’ (Shiji bing, 1986), Chen has held critics’ attention because of her modernist exploration of female subjectivity as well as her inventive style and perspective.
Chen diverges from the literary mainstream in that she tries to go beyond a social and historical interest in women’s experiences to write from an essential female subjectivity. Informed by dreams and fantasies, her analysis often focuses on the female body or domestic space. At the same time, Chen’s writing features a highly personal and sensual use of language: the abstract is described using words of sensual and sexual texture while multiple descriptions of physical reality offset the workings of the narrator’s psyche. This defiance of plot-oriented narration highlights Chen’s painstaking efforts to escape the accepted norms of literacy. Her amoral and apolitical approach to literature and her refusal to accommodate the public’s reading habits contribute to her singularity in contrast to other forms of woman-authored literature, which were increasingly submerged within ‘middle brow’ literature in the 1990s.