The Zither: A Novella
and New Short Fiction
from China

Guest-edited by
Karen Gernant and Chen Zeping
Series Editor Frank Stewart

Featured in this volume is The Woman Zou, the third in a series of novellas by the distinguished writer Zhang Yihe. Born in 1942 in Chongqing, Sichuan, Zhang Yihe was wrongfully convicted of counterrevolutionary activities and sentenced to twenty years in prison. After serving ten years, she was released and allowed to return to Beijing. In 2001 she began writing novellas based on the lives of her fellow women prisoners. She received the International PEN Award for Independent Chinese Writing in 2004 and was praised by the award committee:

Zhang Yihe’s writing is not only an indictment of the age of darkness, but it is also an affirmation of the indefatigable human dignity and a negation of all attempts to destroy this dignity… Zhang Yihe's work illustrates the rarely seen courage among contemporary Chinese writers to defend freedom, dignity and historical memories.

In this volume’s title story, “The Zither,” writer Yi Zhou  uses recent history as a background. The story portrays the parallel lives of two elderly men. One of them, Elder Zhang, is a scholar of the Tang Dynasty poet Li Shangyin. In his youth, famine drove Elder Zhang to commit an unspeakable act, the enduring shame of which haunts him and, he believes, shapes his tragic fate.

The other stories by Yi Zhou in this volume—“Babel Did Not Leave Heavenly Garden,” “The Freewheeling Garden,” and “Isobathic”—involve young people in transition to adulthood and responsibility. Loneliness and nihilism propel them toward their encounters with self-knowledge, the elusiveness of dignity, and the challenge of leading honorable lives. The four stories included in The Zither are Yi Zhou’s first works to be published in English translation.

Zhu Wenying is one of the leading representatives of post-seventies women writers in China. In her story “Mute,” two women who each face an existential crisis find it difficult to ask for help. One is a mother whose husband has abandoned her and their four-year-old autistic son. The other woman answers the mother’s ad for a nanny to help care for the boy. The relationship between the two starts off as mundane and practical but deepens when they recognize their shared despair and crushing loneliness. Without sentimentality, Zhu Wenying portrays the common fate of many women in modern society: enduring the disintegration of the family, bearing responsibility for abandoned children, and finding meaning in their isolation. 

Guest Editors and Translators

Chen Zeping and Karen Gernant began collaborating on translations of contemporary Chinese prose in 1999. Together, they have published approximately sixty translations of short stories, novellas, and essays in prominent literary journals in China, the U.S., and the U.K., and online. Mānoa was the first U.S. literary journal to publish their translations, and they have been frequent contributors to the journal since then. Their book-length translations include Alai’s Tibetan Soul (MerwinAsia, 2012), Zhang Kangkang’s White Poppies and Other Stories (Cornell East Asia Series, 2010), and several books by Can Xue: Blue Light in the Sky and Other Stories (New Directions, 2006), Five Spice Street (Yale, 2009), Vertical Motion (Open Letter, 2011), Frontier (Open Letter, 2017), I Live in the Slums (Yale, 2020, longlisted for the 2021 Booker International Prize), and Purple Perilla (Common Era, 2020). ALTA longlisted their translation of Can Xue’s I Live in the Slums for the National Translation Award in prose. Forthcoming from Yale is their translation of Can Xue’s Barefoot Doctor.

Chen Zeping is professor emeritus of Chinese linguistics at Fujian Normal University. Karen Gernant is professor emerita of Chinese history at Southern Oregon University.


Robert van der Hilst was born in Amsterdam in 1940. He left the Netherlands at age twenty to travel and photograph, and has worked on five continents, with long stays in Cuba, Canada, Latin America, Japan, and China; he now lives in Paris. Since the seventies, his photographs have appeared in magazines such as Geo, Paris-Match, Stern, Vogue, and Zoom. He has been featured in many exhibitions worldwide, and his work is held by such major galleries as the Centre Pompidou, in Paris.

192 pp., summer 2021 (33:1), $25

ORDERS  To reserve advance copies, write to manoaeds@hawaii.edu or see our ordering page.