Jin Runong, PhD candidate, Department of Chinese Literature, National Chung Hsing University
China’s “Cultural Revolution” (1966-1976) has been called the country’s most deformed and chaotic period. To reinforce his political power, Mao Zedong encouraged Chinese youth to destroy ancient cultural traditions, subvert vested interests, and criticize everything and everyone, including their own parents. During this time the social order was destroyed and traditional values could no longer be maintained. Thus, the era could also be called a “decade-long calamity.”
Si Ting’s “The Execution Will Take Place Tonight,” winner of the Lin Fo-er Mystery Award, is a story of that time. The protagonist is Li You, a loyal Communist Party member who works as a jailer in a prison. One evening three youths are arrested and incarcerated for participating in a reactionary movement, the “Voice of Freedom and Democracy.” The young men have been condemned to death and are to be killed the next morning. On the eve of the execution, one of the men pleads with Li You to tell them about a comrade, a young woman named Jinlian, who was executed the previous day – very beautiful, Jinlian was raped before being put to death. Taking pity on the condemned youths, Li You informs them that Jinlian cried out, “This is the last supper!” as she lay on her bed. On hearing this, the three young men cower in fear. Li You can’t bear to look, so he extinguishes the lamp. At five o’ clock the next morning the youths suddenly wail out “Ghost!” One of the condemned has been strangled to death on Jinlian’s bed, and the other two men claim they saw a female wraith throttling him…
Roughly speaking, this is a variation on the “murder in a sealed-off room” theme, one of detective fiction’s basic plot devices: the cell is heavily guarded, no one is allowed to enter or leave, and the two surviving youths had no reason to murder their comrade. And the three were soon to be executed anyway, so what motive could someone have had for killing one of them ahead of schedule?
Author Si Ting presents a paradoxical and captivating murder mystery in this very short tale, but at the same time creates a highly disturbing situation. The detective, a ruthless and greedy Public Security Bureau chief, has replaced the justice-seeking hero of ordinary detective fiction. Readers can’t identify with the man (because he uses his authority to take advantage of women, and has raped Jinlian), nor do they look forward to him cracking the case (because it’s vaguely apparent that personal profit doesn’t seem to be the motive for the murder). Thus, bringing the tale to a satisfactory conclusion was a challenge for the writer. And the ending she came up with reminds us that such a story could only have taken place in the terrible days of the Cultural Revolution.
Jin Runong, PhD candidate, Department of Chinese, National Chung Hsing University
Si Ting (1948- ) is the penname of Chen Wengui, a native of Xiamen in China’s Fujian province. In 1969, at the height of the Cultural Revolution, she was sent to perform forced labor in the countryside. She relocated to Hong Kong in 1978, earning her living as a writer. In the beginning she penned essays, newspapers columns, and martial-arts fiction, later turning to scriptwriting to support herself. In 1989 she came to Taiwan to assist Central Pictures Corporation in writing the screenplay for A Woman and Seven Husbands. She established permanent residence in Beijing in 1998, where she continues to practice her craft.
Si Ting’s life is a miniature of that of a homeless intellectual, drifting here and there with no place to call home. Because she spoke Cantonese with an accent, Hong Kong people didn’t consider her one of them; in Taiwan she was known as a “famous Hong Kong scriptwriter”; when she returned China she was called a “Taiwan-Hong Kong screenwriter.” Always on the move, she was unable to settle in any one place. Nevertheless, she has established herself as a master of her craft, twice winning the Government Information Office’s Award for Excellence in Screenwriting (for 1990’s The Red Urn and 1993’s Old Ge’s Grandchild). She also worked on several joint Taiwan-China productions: Bao Qingtian, The Clever and Elegant Ji Xiaolan, and Homeland. The serials God of Medicine and The Orphan of Zhao, two well-researched period pieces, were also the product of her hand.
Si Ting began writing mysteries after stumbling on a copy of Taiwan’s Mystery magazine while living in Hong Kong – after perusing the publication she felt that she could work in the genre. Her “Master Sleuth” (1986) won the praise of Mystery’s chief editor, Lin Fo’er, who invited her to submit more of her work. She subsequently published “Good Picture-taking” (1987), “The Execution Will Take Place Tonight” (1988), which took first place in the 1st Annual Lin Fo’er Mystery Fiction Awards, “The Taiwanese Visitor” (1989), “Last Class” (1990), second-place winner in the 2nd Annual Lin Fo’er Mystery Awards, and “Close Spirit,” recommended in the 3rd Annual Lin Fo’er Mystery Fiction Awards. The Cultural Revolution and the Tianmen Square Incident serve as background to many of Si Ting’s mysteries, a rarity in Taiwanese detective fiction.
|Work(English)：||The Execution Will Take Place Tonight|
|Anthology：||The Execution Will Take Place Tonight|
|Literary Genre：||Short Story|
|Publisher：||Taipei: Yao You Guang Publishing Co., Ltd|
|Ordering information for original work(Link)：||http://www.books.com.tw/products/0010574184|
Ordering information for original work(Note)：
|The “book.com.tw” Internet Bookstore|
|Ordering information for translation(Link)：|
|Ordering information for translation(Note)：||No English Translation|