“Dragon’s Gate is a superb book, a fascinating story written from the heart and woven into a complex cultural and historical tapestry – a modern classic in the making.” – Robert Macklin, author of Dragon and Kangaroo
“Just a quick note to let you know I have finished reading Dragon’s Gate – it was very engrossing and enjoyable. The juxtaposition of deeply held traditional cultural rituals and taboos with the cacophony of the Cultural Revolution was masterfully played out. Both were so pervasive in the lives of all of the actors – it must have been such a trying time for all of the populace to have the over arching menace of detention for trivial infractions governing lives. You are a gifted author.” – Jim Neville
“I’ve been meaning to write and tell you how much I was intrigued by, and enjoyed, Dragon’s Gate. I was so impressed by the way you were able to tie the story of Shi Ding with the various stories he chose to relate. The importance and power of story came through so strongly!” – Libby Gleeson
Shi Ding has two obsessions: to find and punish those responsible for driving his father to a suicide which destroyed his promising career in the Red Guards, and to tell the marvellous stories he discovered in a professor’s confiscated library. But he cannot find a target to avenge and the stories he discovered are the banned western classics, so he leaves Beijing. In the remote regions, he hopes to have the clarity that will give him answers about his father, and, far from the capital, to be able to safely tell his stories to strangers. At first, the stories reinforce his core beliefs. The Red and The Black, Crime and Punishment and Great Expectations are all about the class struggle which must have figured in his father’s suicide. The Count of Monte Cristo is about the tenacity of vengeance. But slowly, the stories begin to work on him in ways he did not expect. They ask questions. They undermine his cherished assumptions. They cause him to see his beloved father in a totally different way. He wants to resist and argue with them, but he is enchanted and the enchantment wins out – the heartless Red Guard grows into an insightful young man who can confront the truth of his father’s brutal end. Can he live with this truth?
Dragon’s Gate is about the power of storytelling. Within its overarching narrative, there are stories of little-known worlds: river logging in remote mountains, armed fighting between Red Guard factions, fortune telling on long train journeys, community life in the courtyards of Beijing hutong. Dragon’s Gate is peopled with memorable characters like Aunt Sun, the nosy, tough but decent residential compound leader; the blind singer who was struck dumb when he had to sing songs set to Chairman Mao’s quotations; and the Buffalo Boy who was reputed to have fathered a hundred children in a Tibetan village.
Comment from Sharon Asher, Montreal:
“You have great insight and ability to delineate characters so that the reader gets to witness and understand their psychological development. Plot twists and turns keep the reader thinking she/he has the answers to the mysteries, situations that arise. Your technique of revealing bit by bit different aspects of and changes in Shi Ding’s actions and thinking as more and more detail comes to light creates an in-depth understanding of Shi Ding. The same is true of his father, mother, Sun Lanfen, Ruan Quiling.
I want to add that your attention to detail, beautiful description of settings, especially colour (Canadian/British spelling) bring the story alive and very present. Mixing quotations from classic world literary works written in or translated to English with the scenes in China during the Cultural Revolution shows how the human condition is the same regardless of politics. As well, they reveal the progression of Shi Ding’s actions and understanding as he grows up. The final quotation from Crime and Punishment demonstrates the central theme of your novel – and the key life lesson Shi Ding has absorbed. Again, well done!”
Watch Vivian Bi in a conversation with cultural facilitator and translator, Jane Sydenham-Kwiet, where she describes the background of Mao’s Communist China and its impact on China’s cultural landscape as depicted in her 2020-published novel, Dragon’s Gate in this episode of SCCI Virtual Fashion Hub 2020 https://www.scci.org.au/communist-china-fashion-hub/
About the author:
Vivian (Xiyan) Bi is a published author of several novels (including Bright Swallow, 2019), short stories, translations and textbooks. She is the Chinese Coordinator in Ascham School, Sydney, and was a lecturer in Chinese Studies at the University of Sydney. She has received four grants from the Australia Council for the Arts. She lives in Sydney.
“The unique interweaving of fascinating tales set in exotic places with familiar and much-loved western classics makes this book a page turner from beginning to end.” –Jane Sydenham-Kwiet