Famed Chinese writer Chen Zhongshi dies at 73

World Today

Chen Zhongshi smokes during a China Writers Association conference in Nantong, Jiangsu province, April 9, 2007. Jiang Jianhua/VCG

Chen Zhongshi, celebrated writer and vice chairman of the China Writers Association, died at the age of 73 on Friday morning in Xi’an, Shaanxi Province.

Chen lost his battle against cancer and died in the hospital at 7:45 a.m. on Friday, according to sources with the Shaanxi provincial writers association.

A native of Xi’an, Chen worked as a teacher before he became a local cultural official. His best-known novel,“White Deer Plain (Bai Lu Yuan, 白鹿原)” , took the Mao Dun Literature Prize in 1997.


Set in the countryside of northwest China, the story is about the fate of two families through half a century, reflecting the changes in China’s rural areas. A movie adapted from the novel won the Silver Bear at the 62nd Berlin film festival.

Poster of White Deer Plain. Photo: VGC.

Poster of White Deer Plain. Photo: VGC.

Many people visited the house near the tableland where the novelist was born to mourn.

“He was a real master,” said Zhang Xuming, a reader. “From Bai Lu Yuan, I can see history and human nature.”

Gao Jianqun, another writer native to Xi’an, said Chen had been receiving an 11th round of chemotherapy. “I am so sad at the loss of him,” he said. “He was a strong man. Few people could stand so many rounds of chemotherapy.”



He remembered the first time he saw Chen in 1979. “He was sitting at the corner, carrying a knapsack,” he said. “He was typical of the men in northwest China.”

Chen spent four years finishing “Bai Lu Yuan” while living in poverty. The roof of his rural house leaked when it rained.

“The experience gave Chen a better understanding of the farmers and the countryside, making the book more vivid and real,” said Xiao Yunru, a literary critic.

Sun Xueliang with the Sichuan Literature and Art Publishing House was editor of Chen’s collection of prose. He told Xinhua that they had been waiting for Chen’s foreword.

In a letter Chen wrote to Sun in February, the writer apologized for his delay. “The chemotherapy disrupted my thought, and I lost my memory,” he said. “I will try to finish it. Please give me some time.”

The book is about 180,000 characters, bringing together Chen’s essays he wrote about articles in his daily life. It is expected to be published later this year.