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The Water Lily Pond

Interview with Han Z. Li

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Why do you call the book “Water Lily Pond?”


The water lily pond was my childhood companion. Sitting on the deck, my feet in the cool water. I did my homework, sang my favourite Beijing opera or daydreamed. The lily pond was also my adulthood comfort. It was by the same pond, I regained strength after being overwhelmed by spying students at university. The pond itself barely escaped death and lived to nurture new life. It’s a symbol of openness and renewal. .br A related image is the water lily; it springs from mud but looms above it. In old China, when poets or mandarins became disappointed with the corrupt way the emperor ran the country, they would resign themselves from public life and live in solitude. They would compare their spirit to that of water lily, which refuses to be corrupted by the muddy water surrounding it. In the book, May-ping is like the water lily. She survived the various thought cleansing sessions and kept her inner self intact.


What is unique about the Water Lily Pond in comparison to other books on modern China?


This book describes Maoist Chinese village life from an insider’s perspective. It shows how the political changes, starting at some point in the 1950’s and extending into the 1980’s, left their marks on ordinary people. For example, May-ping could go to university because she was born into a Poor Class family whereas her friend, Lan could not, due to her Landlord Class background. The irony is that May-ping’s great grandfather was once a big land owner who sold his land before the Communists came in 1949. If it were not for her great grandfather’s opium smoking habit, May-ping’s fate would be as tragic as Lan’s. Peasants occupy 80% of the population and they have been greatly under represented. Chinese women, especially rural women and their sufferings have not been properly presented to the world.


Why did you write The Water Lily Pond? .br

In the summer of 1993 I lived in a place with a little lily pond and a flock of ducklings. The scene triggered something in me and so I took up my pen. I completed the first draft in six months. When I read the first draft I felt like a debt had been paid to my grandmother. Her sayings and teachings would be forgotten if I hadn’t written them down. Chinese rural culture is an oral culture and it varies greatly from region to region. It took me ten years to revise.