The publication of White Deer Plain has aroused great repercussions and high appraisals among literary critics. It has also won continued love and wide appreciation among readers. And it is truly an infrequent occurrence in contemporary Chinese literature for a work to be so unanimously praised both inside and outside the literary world.
Being Chen Zhongshi’s first novel, White Deer Plain has literally taken the world by surprise. Set in White Deer Plain, a village straddling the urban and rural area close to Xi’an, the story focuses on the lives of the Bai and Lu clans over three generations. It not only reflects the ethnic charm and culture of Guanzhong peasants, but also retraces the steps of social and historical change in modern and contemporary China. While displaying the historical and cultural implications embedded in family and national situations, the novel presents an epic tale whose artistic expression complements its historical narration, by alternating between the deep, the skin-deep, the real, and the illusory.
It must be noted that few contemporary novels ever manage to blend together so many historical implications, rich cultural meanings and epic styles into one work – and even fewer are able to be interesting and readable at the same time.
With these artistic breakthroughs, White Deer Plain fully deserves the title of contemporary Chinese classic novel. What makes it unique is its perfect blend of rich history and modern views, its artistic symbolism and historic mystique, its intricate plot structure and detail of description. All these traits have made White Deer Plain one of the best novels in contemporary China, since each reading can generate fresh insights and each word means more than so appears. It is a must-read for all those who wish to know more about Chinese history and culture and understand contemporary literature and novels more thoroughly.
陈忠实于1965 年开始发表作品。著有短篇小说集《乡村》《到老白杨树背后去》，中篇小说集《初夏》《四妹子》《夭折》，《陈忠实小说自选集》(3 卷 )、《陈忠实文集》(7 卷 )，散文集《生命之雨》《告别白鸽》《家之脉》《原下的日子》等。
短篇小说《信任》曾在 1979 年获全国优秀短篇小说奖，中篇小说《康家小院》获上海首届《小说界》文学奖，《初夏》获《当代》文学奖，长篇小说《白鹿原》先后获陕西“双五”文学奖、人民文学出版社“炎黄杯”文学奖、中国作家协会第四届茅盾文学奖。
长篇小说《白鹿原》为陈忠实的代表作。该作被国家教育部列入“大学生必读”系列，被评为“百年百种优秀中国文学图书”（1900—1999），据不完全统计，《白鹿原》迄今已发行逾 200 万册，并被改编成秦腔、话剧、舞剧、连环画、雕塑等多种艺术形式，以本部小说改编的同名电影《白鹿原》已经拍摄完成，并于2012年上映。
Chen Zhongshi, a native of Xi'an, Shaanxi Province, was born in June 1942 and died in April 2016.
Chen began publishing in 1965. His major works include: short story collections Countryside and Go Behind the Old White Poplar; novella collections Early Summer, The Fourth Sister, Untimely Death, Selected Novels by Chen Zhongshi (3 volumes), A Collection of Chen Zhongshi’s Literary Works (7 volumes); prose collections Rain of Life, Farewell to the Dove, The Bloodline, Days in Yuanxia, etc.
His short story Trust won the National Best Short Story Award in 1979, novella The Courtyard of the Kangs won the 1st Shanghai Novel World Bimonthly Literature Prize, and Early Summer won the Dangdai Bimonthly Literature Prize. His novel White Deer Plain was awarded the Shanxi Double Five Literature Prize, Yanhuang Cup Literature Prize by People’s Literature Press and the 4th Mao Dun Literature Prize by the Chinese Writers’Association.
White Deer Plain was Chen Zhongshi’s magnum opus. This book has been included by the National Education Ministry into their “College students’ Must-reads” series, and has been rated among the “Top 100 Excellent Works of Chinese Literature of the Past Century (1900-1999)”. Statistics on the novel show that to date it enjoys a circulation of over 2 million, and has been adapted into Qin Opera performances, theatrical dramas, dance dramas, picture story books, sculptures and many other art forms. The film adaptation of the same title was completed and shown to the public in 2012.
The story of White Deer Plain mainly centers on a three-generation-long feud between the Bai and Lu clans of White Deer Plain, located in the hinterlands of Guanzhong, west of Shaanxi Province. The story also sets off the deadly battles between KMT and CPC political forces, and demonstrate –in between the storylines – the decline of farming civilization, the inheritance of family property and the folk cultures and customs characteristic of the Guanzhong countryside.
Bai Jiaxuan, the chief of Bai Clan, prides himself on having successively married seven different women throughout his life. After the death of his sixth wife, Miss Hu, he marries a seventh woman, Wu Xiancao, from the mountains, and brings back poppy seeds. The huge profits gained from planting poppy are even more tantalizing than the fragrance of opium. And their courtyard complex holds an impressive place in the village of White Deer Plain.
Legend has it that White Deer Plain in early times was plagued with disasters and diseases. Suggested by a visionary chief, the villagers changed the original name of Hou Village (called Hu Village by others) to White Deer Village. They also decided to change their family names. Wanting to seize all the fortune and luck in the village, the two brothers from Hou made an agreement that the elder clan assume the Bai family name while the younger clan took on the name Lu. The two clans would worship in the same ancestral temple to show their same origin and roots, a practice which has been in place ever since. The elder Bai clan and younger Lu clan then made it a rule that the role of chief would be inherited by the elder family’s grandson.
Not long after, the Bai and Lu families could be seen fighting fiercely for land possession. But the fighting stopped and they reconciled thanks to Mr. Leng of the Traditional Chinese Medicine Pharmacy and Mr. Zhu, old friends of the two families. This reconciliation was so great that the county head started to distinguish this village as the Benevolent White Deer Village.
One day, Bai Jiaxuan enters Lu Ziling’s courtyard holding a detailed plan for renovating the temple, putting the two of them in charge of the project. It’s not long before summer turns to fall, schools reopening following the yearly harvest. Memorial tablets are placed in five main halls honoring the ancestors of both Bai and Lu Clans. Three rooms on the west wing are used as schools. Bai Jiaxuan and Lu Ziling go together to find Mr. Zhu at the White Deer Academy, asking him to recommend a teacher of both knowledge and virtue. Mr. Zhu recommends Scholar Xu from the Xu Family to the east of White Deer Plain. Bai’s two sons have acquired school names – Bai Xiaowen being called “Pony” and Bai Xiaowu being called “Mule” – and enter school, becoming Mr. Xu’s pupils. Lu Ziling’s two sons—Lu Zhaopeng and Lu Zhaohai—are also transferred to the local school. Bai Jiaxuan helps Heiwa, son of his long-time servant, enter the school as well.
Lu San, Bai’s long-time servant has won the respect of Bai through his honesty and hard work over several generations. Bai Jiaxuan even calls him their third brother as if he were part of his family. A few years later, Bai Jiaxuan’s third son Xiaoyi and daughter Bai Ling are born. On one night after the girl’s one-month birthday, Mr. Leng brings from the town news of the Revolutionary Party’s revolt. White Deer Plain is then quickly succumbed by panic amidst the frequent turnover of warlords in the provincial and county capitals. Mr. Zhu formulates the Convention of the County, which Bai Jiaxuan sets a good example in implementing. Since then, such misdemeanors as stealing, gambling and fighting are almost gone from the village.
Appointed head of White Deer Town’s social security bureau, Lu Ziling fulfills his duties of levying taxes on land and polls. However, displeased with taxation, Bai Jiaxuan takes villagers from all counties to the town, inciting them to turn in their farm tools and go on strike. And though their strike was successful, Bai Jiaxuan turned himself in while Lu San and other leaders were put under arrest. Thankfully, with the help of Mr. Zhu, the arrested find redemption in the community. A year following, Bai Jiaxuan fixes the clan orders and punishes members for violating the rules. Realizing that the incident has deepened the divide between the Bai and Lu families, Mr. Leng promises to marry his eldest daughter to Lu’s eldest son Zhaopeng and his second daughter to Bai’s second son Zhaowu, hoping to settle the conflict between them.
Bai Ling is eager to start attending school, so Bai Jiaxuan sends her over, but she disappears ten days after the following year’s Chinese New Year festival. Bai Jiaxuan goes to his second sister’s home in the city to look for her, only to find her studying at a new-style school in the city. When prompted to go back, Bai Ling refuses, threatening to end her life. Bai Jiaxuan has no choice but to let her have her way.
After the Lu and Bai family brothers leave the White Deer Academy, Heiwa decides to leave school. When he is 17, Heiwa goes to work in the house of Master Guo, an Imperial Scholar in Weibei area, and has an affair with Tian Xiao’e, Guo’s concubine. Soon he elopes with Xiao’e to White Deer Village. Lu San does not accept her while Bai Jiaxuan denies her entrance into the temple. They have to stay in a precarious cave dwelling at the east end of the village.
Following the April 12th incident, KMT and CPC split. While Lu Zhaohai supports the former, Bai Ling has more faith in the latter. With this, conflicts start cropping up between them. Lu Zhaopeng and Heiwa escape into the mountain to live like exiles; Tian Fuxian does all he can to reprimand the peasants’ association activities out on the theater stage in front of the temple. At the same time, Bai Jiaxuan is ordering people to renovate the temple. Days later, Bai Jiaxuan calls a clan meeting. With the county convention in hand, Xiaowen leads the people to chant it. Lu Ziling mocks the father and son from the Bai clan, saying they are capable of nothing but template renovation. Still serving as the head of the local No. 1 Social Security Bureau, he follows Tian Fuxian’s methods, punishing Xiao’e and the other activists out on the stage. On his knees, Bai Jiaxuan begs Tian for mercy, blaming himself for failing to discipline clan members as the head is supposed to do. Heiwa flees to the countryside and becomes a bodyguard for Brigadier Xi. But their unit happens to break up in one encounter, Heiwa somehow becoming the bandits’ second-in-command. Later on, in a house raid, he orders his subordinates to break Bai Jiaxuan’s back. This causes Tian Fuxian to set traps for Heiwa at the same time that Xiao’e goes to Lu Ziling to plead for his life. Taking advantage of the moment as well as her emotions, Lu Ziling talks her into seducing Bai Xiaowen, who immediately falls in love with her and becomes infatuated with their sexual games.
Later on, White Deer Plain is hit by an unusual, drought-induced famine. After dividing up their family properties, Bai Xiaowen sells his land and house because of starvation and becomes a beggar. Lu Ziling, who wanted to disgrace him in the first place, unwittingly provides him with a way out. So he takes up a position in the security team of Zishui County. Within a month’s time, his health recovered and his confidence restored. As soon as he receives his first paycheck, he goes to reward Tian Fuxian and Lu Ziling for showing him a way to survive. He intends to give the rest of the money to Xiao’e, but she has died mysteriously. Upon learning the news of her death, Heiwa decides to kill Bai Jiaxuan, never expecting that his father Lu San is the very killer.
White Deer Plain is once again hit by a devastating disaster, this time an unprecedented plague sweeping across the plain. And all the peasants in the village – men or women, old or young, rich or poor, become panic-stricken and overwhelmed by it. Holding one’s ground against popular opinion, chief Bai Jiaxuan successfully builds his demon-holding tower. Eventually, the plague abates.
Bai Xiaowen comes to learn from his uncle Mr. Zhu that his father is ready to forgive him – this prodigal son of his – and let him return to the plain. His life has changed for the better – he is promoted to battalion commander, being in charge of defending the county; it’s also not too long before his name is known throughout town.
News travels about the town causing quite a stir: a gang of bandits on the edge of Zishui County submitted themselves to the security group. Heiwa is appointed battalion commander and gets married. Well on the way to being a person with ideas and knowledge, he is accepted by his family again. However, Lu San dies alone. Taking Lu Zhaopeng’s advice, Heiwa rebels, only to be suppressed as a reactionist by the new regime represented by Bai Xiaowen, the man in power.
Lu Ziling hires farmhands again and earns back the land he was originally forced to sell, seeing conditions for his family start to improve. Yet after witnessing the execution of Yue Weishan, Tian Fuxian and Heiwa by firing squad, his mind falls to pieces. At the same time and for no reason at all, Bai Jiaxuan is also attacked by a bizarre disease characterized by “energy and blood blurring the eyes”. Although his son is now the county head, he simply cannot stop the execution of Heiwa and the insanity of Lu Ziling. He is full of sympathy and confusion as well.
长篇小说《白鹿原》为陈忠实的代表作。该作被国家教育部列入“大学生必读”系列，被评为“百年百种优秀中国文学图书”（1900—1999），迄今已发行逾 200 万册，并被改编成秦腔、话剧、舞剧、连环画、雕塑等多种艺术形式。