Mulberry and Peach Background

Mulberry and Peach Background

First published in 1981, Mulberry and Peach is a historical fiction novel by Chinese writer Hualing Nieh. The novel is "set against the background of the Japanese occupation of China, the Communist-Nationalist struggle, the White Terror of Taiwan, and American engagement in the Vietnam War" (Google Books). It tells the story of a girl named Mulberry who flees China to live in the U.S., but struggles to cope with the traumas she experienced back in her home country and to adapt to her new life. The stress and internal conflict she experiences lead Mulberry to develop a second personality--Peach--who disregards Mulberry's moral conventions and rejects her cultural roots and traditions. As described in People's Daily - China, "The conflict between Mulberry and Peach—the dual personalities locked within the heroine—symbolizes the conflict that has faced all those Chinese whose lives have been disrupted by the great political upheavals of modern China." The structure of Mulberry and Peach "cut[s] between Mulberry's old journals and letters that Peach, traveling across the U.S., sends to the immigration official investigating her."

Mulberry and Peach draws from Nieh's own cultural background, experiences, and political views. Nieh grew up in mainland China, and, during the Chinese Civil War, her father--who served as an official of the Kuomintang administration--was executed by the Communist Red Army. She graduated from Nanjing's National Central University in 1948; the next year, following the Chinese Communist Revolution, she and her family relocated to Taiwan. While living in Taiwan, Nieh worked for the liberal intellectual magazine Free China until it was closed down in 1960 by the Chiang Kai-shek administration.

As the political climate of Taiwan continued to worsen, Nieh was placed under surveillance by the government. In 1964, she moved to Iowa City with Paul Engle, then director of the Iowa Writers' Workshop. The two founded the International Writing Program in 1967, around which time Nieh started writing in English in addition to her usual Chinese. Nieh and Engle got married in 1971. Over the course of the 1970s, they continued cultivating talent at the International Writing Program and taking on tasks to bring Chinese literature to America, such as translating a collection of Mao Zedong's poems. In 1979, two years prior to the publication of Mulberry and Peach, Nieh and Engels organized "Chinese Weekend", a "weekend of literary discussions at the University of Iowa" credited with being "one of the very first encounters between writers from mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and the diaspora after 1949."

Since Mulberry and Peach's publication, Nieh has officially retired, although she continues to recruit acclaimed Chinese writers to the International Writing Program, including Nobel Prize winner Mo Yan. Almost all of her writings since the novel have been in Chinese, and the last was published in 2008. In 2012, Nieh's life story was turned into biopic titled One Tree Three Lives. She has received numerous awards and honorary degrees from around the world.

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