Lauded as one of the best writers born in the 1970s in China, Xu Zechen has penned five novels and nearly 100 short stories. He has won numerous awards and honors, including the 2014 Lu Xun Literary Prizefor Short Story and the 2019 Mao DunLiterature Prize. His works, mostly about the underbelly of contemporary urban life in China’s largest cities, have been translated into 23 languages, including Arabic,English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, and Spanish.

Short stories have always been Xu’s forte and The Selected Stories of XuZechen: Plum Rain and Other Works—a new volume in the Jiangsu Literature Translated series from Phoenix Publishing and Media Group (PPMG)—offers six works that reflect the different styles in each period of his work. Told in a straight-forward manner, these stories revolve around men of low status, memories of childhood, campus life, and the living conditions of Beijing’s drifters.

“Xu focuses on the pains and struggles of ordinary people and their personal tragedies, which, had they happened in real life, would go mostly unnoticed and completely unreported,” says translator Fernando Arrieta. The translator has worked on five of the six stories in the 275-page English edition, which was released by Bridge21 Publications. “Xu is an author of great imagination and the characters he created are all unique, as are the conflicts that each character is presented with. 'Qijiazhuang,' for instance, is about a bankrupt ex-convict returning to his rural hometown to bury his father and having to deal with a relative of a local thug who has political aspirations.”

Each story is presented from a different perspective, says Arrieta. “Sometimes, it is narrated from the first person, and the main character is presented with a moral dilemma. Or it’s told by a third party, from a distance.” In “Plum Rain,” Xu writes about the recollections of a teenage boy who, for weeks, watches with wonder as the personal tragedy of an unknown woman unfolds. She has recently arrived in his town and is assumed, throughout the story, to be a prostitute. Then there is the document forger talking about his cousin, who came to Beijing from the countryside and was gradually swallowed up by city life, in “Rock Paper Scissors.”

Xu’s stories, Arrieta says, “open a window to the unique experiences of the Chinese people, from the rural movement in the past few decades to the rapid economic prosperity in the first ten years of the 21st century.” The translator elaborates: “These are experiences and historical circumstances that, without any doubt, form the worldview and mindset of several generations of Chinese people. I found much joy translating these stories, and I hope that readers will find as much joy reading them.”

ew York-based copyeditor and translator Matt Turner, a fan since reading Xu’s novel Running Through Beijing (Two Lines Press, 2014), offers a different take on the anthology: “What immediately struck me was the book’s portrayal of city life. It didn’t show family dramas at home, or professionals facing minor difficulties but eventually finding success. There were no cool characters hanging out at the slickest new bars. It showed how life was lived by both insiders and outsiders, but none of them quite fit in with easy literary tropes, and none behave as you expect.”

For Turner, who lived in Beijing for almost a decade, this anthology “gives English-language readers, perhaps for the first time, a broader taste of Chinese city life. It is something that you don’t see on television. It is about average people with average concerns. And yet, Xu makes these concerns universal—something that any reader can understand and relate to.”

The Selected Stories of Xu Zechen also shows how the author has grown over the years. Calling the book “a pleasure to read,” Turner says it “also provides a broader picture of Xu, both how he has written and the things that motivate him. I thank him for the stories, which are full of memorable characters and cities, and enable readers to feel all these different relationships that he writes about.”

The Russian edition, to be published by Hyperion, will be available in the first quarter of 2024.