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Fortress Besieged

4.24  ·  Rating Details  ·  607 Ratings  ·  51 Reviews
The greatest Chinese novel of the twentieth century. Fortress Besieged is a classic of world literature, a masterpiece of parodic fiction that plays with Western literary traditions, philosophy, and middle-class Chinese society in the Republican era. Set on the eve of the Sino-Japanese War, our hapless hero Fang Hung-chien (à la Emma Bovary), with no particular goal in lif ...more
Paperback, 448 pages
Published by Penguin Classics (first published January 1st 1947)
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May 04, 2015 Hadrian rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, chinese
Marriage is like a fortress besieged: those who are outside want to get in, and those who are inside want to get out.
-Chinese proverb, first a French proverb

Despite the ponderous warnings of the title and possible horrors of the setting (late 1930s China), this is a humorous book. It is first a social satire, lampooning the hypocrisy of contemporary academia, and the bizarre tangled rituals of courtship and arranged marriages.

Our story starts with a young screw-up w
Ethan Cramer-Flood
Fortress Besieged is regarded as one of the great Chinese novels of the twentieth century. Published in the 1940s, and set in 1937-38 during the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese war that preceded World War II, it's supposed to be a triumph of social satire, word play, and uniquely Chinese cynicism about relationships, families, and human behavior in general.

If all this is true, then the translation in this version has not done Qian Zhongshu justice. Either that, or the social elements that he's se
Jan 04, 2016 Zoe rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
a fantastic literary gem depicting a turbulent time of Chinese history. The original is much better than the translation but I guess this is unavoidable. There is much essence lost in the attempt to fit intricate Asian subtleties into western concepts.
Justin Evans
Jan 23, 2016 Justin Evans rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
An odd book, sometimes clunky, but which ultimately stuck with me. The clunkiness is fairly straightforward: it reads more like a series of novellas parodying familiar genres (the tourist novella, the road trip novella, the campus novel, the romantic comedy, the romantic farce). Each of them has its merits, and they do hold together, just, but the structure is very odd.

That said, the parody and satire on both West and East (and West-in-East and East-in-West) is great. I'm unsure of the commenta
Harker US Library
Feb 22, 2015 Harker US Library rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It’s a sad fact of English-language literature that the number of books translated from English and shipped around the world far outstrips that of books translated into English from other languages. That means the pool of books available to American readers in translation from, say, Mandarin is relatively limited—only works of scholarly interest, unusual acclaim, or specifically Western appeal make their way to our libraries. Fortunately, Qian Zhongshu’s classic Fortress Besieged meets all three ...more
Olive Huang
Jan 29, 2013 Olive Huang rated it it was amazing
Shelves: my-books
Humorous of harsh language and the deeper observation on life.

The title is based on a French proverb:

Marriage is like a fortress besieged: those who are outside want to get in, and those who are inside want to get out.

(Le mariage est une forteresse assiégée, ceux qui sont dehors veulent y entrer, ceux qui sont dedans veulent en sortir.)
Carlos Recamán
Nov 16, 2014 Carlos Recamán rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
¿Puede un libro machista y xenófobo reírse de la falocracia y la xenofobia? Por supuesto que sí, y lo que es mejor, puede hacerlo con inteligencia y mucho, mucho humor.

En esta novela, Zhongshu se ríe. Se ríe de los extranjeros, esos franceses buenos para nada, esos yanquis que ya a mediados del siglo XX se creían el ombligo del mundo, esos japoneses que [inserte aquí cualquier comentario derivado de la mentalidad de posguerra sino-japonesa]; se ríe de las mujeres, seres hipócritas, controladore
Apr 07, 2010 Mimi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a satirical comedy of manners set in China in 1937 during the Japanese invasion, which only appears in the background. The language takes a little getting used to whether due to the translation or not, I couldn't tell. Almost every page has a funny metaphor, for instance: "He didn't realize that a person's shortcomings are just like a monkey's tail. When it's squatting on the ground, it's tail is hidden from view, but as soon as it climbs a tree, it exposes it's backside to everyone. Nev ...more
Mar 30, 2008 Rick rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent read! I'm not a fast reader, but this book couldn't be put down. As a married English teacher living in China, there are so many things that I can relate to. And it gave my the deepest insight yet to personal relationships of the people of China. Of course, it's only fiction, but it's very difficult for foreigners to get a glimpse into the personal lives of Chinese. It's a great book on many levels.
Marcel Meyer
Sep 14, 2012 Marcel Meyer rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It is surprising that Qian is not better known in the Western world. His only novel is a masterpiece that has its rightful place amongst the best of the 20th century. It has everything a novel needs. It's funny, it's clever, it's multi-layered, has skillful character portrays and references to literature world-wide (!) and, importantly, a pleasant pace of story-telling. What more would you want of a book!
Sharon Zhao
Feb 01, 2016 Sharon Zhao rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: chinese
常读常新 每一遍都看见从前和现在的自己
Nov 01, 2011 Jeremy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great Chinese book, one I hope to read again. Funny, insightful, philosophical -- not much more one could ask from a book.
Benjamin Parry
Dec 04, 2015 Benjamin Parry rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was the first book that I’ve read in China, and hopefully will be a great introduction to my reading while here. It was a great story, which I enjoyed right up until the end. The best summary of the plot is from the back cover in that it follows the “misadventures of the hapless hero”. However I would rather not focus on the plot as I wouldn’t want to ruin the points for anyone that might want to read it, and I don’t think that it is that helpful in getting an understanding of the flavor of ...more
May 05, 2013 Nick rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
This is a really good book for Chinese language students. Most reading material for intermediate students is short texts that don't differ much from what you'd find in a text book. This is an actual novel simplified for the student with vocabulary translations, pinyin, and comprehension questions in Chinese at the end of each chapter.

Even with the vocabulary I found there were still some words that I had to look up. Some parts of the story were harder than others but overall I was able to read
Sep 08, 2013 Frank rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A terrific novel, and a delight to read, certainly in this vivid Dutch translation.

Ik heb al meer citaten uit dit boek aangehaald. Het is misschien geen perfecte roman, maar wel een heel onderhoudende, en je kunt eruit blijven citeren. ('De Ier vloekte en tierde, bedronk zich en ging met rooddoorlopen ogen op zoek naar een Chinees om in elkaar te slaan.') Maar ik denk dat ik maar gewoon een andere recensent citeer: Ger Leppers, die in Trouw een heel goed beeld van het boek schetste (afgezien van
Daniel Silveyra
I'd like to note that Chien Chung-shu is not the translator but the author.

I bought this one in the English-language section in a Chongqing Xinhua bookstore. Some Princeton professor is quoted in the back as saying that this may be China's best 20th century novel. Well, I'm not sure about that, but it is an entertaining read and has several interesting observations about WWII China.

The story is a satire about a failed, petty and dishonest Chinese scholar who studies abroad in the 1930s. We follo
May 21, 2016 Aaron rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a challenging read for me for two reasons: 1) The Chinese is heady in its rich use of descriptive analogy, which for a non-native reader made for some very slow reading; which leads to 2) The apparent lack of story (another reviewer described the book as a collection of vignettes, which I think is quite apt). I was certainly impressed with Qian Zhongshu's witty banter and wonderful imagery, but the slow pace of my reading added to the despair of wondering where all this was going (a per ...more
Hui Yao
May 15, 2014 Hui Yao rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I seldom finish a book completely. Within my memory, Fortress Besieged is one of the few novels which I've really finished, so I absolutely like the book. I read the Chinese version, and personally, I reckon the translation is easier for this book, as the style and air throughout the novel seems a mixture of the east and the west.
Jan 12, 2016 Damon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The words and sentences are very beautiful and vivid. The story reflects the life and destiny of the people of that age.
The people you love will change, and the the people that ever loved you will also change. Besides, most of important, people need to have true skill and genuine knowledge.
Mar 03, 2013 Ivan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Un récit moderne qui nous mets en garde contre notre indécision, dénigration des actions et des idées de nos proches en fonction de nos propres idées sans lien avec ce qu'ils pensent vraiment. Un avertissement contre le laisser-aller et la déférence continuelle envers de faux autorités que nous sachons corrompus, se posant comme le mode de vie et l'inaction qui mène à la perte: toutefois ce livre se dispense des appels vers l'ordre moral, et démontre plutôt l'incompréhension mutuelle qui en déco ...more
May 29, 2016 Juliet rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Extraordinary. A detailed reflection of life in China and the expectations of society in a time gone by. Plus funny, acerbic, witty. Very much a John Cheever, Richard Yates, Richard Ford of Chinese life. So pleased I found this novel. I hope you do too.
This really is for the most part a comedy of manners although it has a lot to say about expectations versus the realities of the marital bond. Surprisingly accessible for those who might generally be put off by Asian fiction, this satirical novel set in 1930s China expresses the frustrations of individuals coping with traditional values imposed on social conventions. What struck me was how the world around these families is changing dramatically even violently forms the backdrop for families man ...more
Aug 09, 2011 Gordon rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
I wish I could read this in the original Chinese and am also curious how well this very 'bourgeois' work is known in modern China. In places Fortress Besieged is amusing, sometimes even very funny; in other places it is somber, sometimes (especially at the end) outright tragic. To me this book stands out for two things: it's colorful and ironic description of semi-westernized educated Chinese in the 1930's and its far more universal portrayal of what goes into making - and destroying - a marriag ...more
Jan 14, 2016 Waynewing rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
one of my favs
Deemed one of the greats of modern Chinese fiction, this comedy of manners is excellent at satirising the faux-intellectual manners of the "returned students" (Chinese students returning from study overseas) during the 1920s and 30s. The translation is good, though the reviewer has not yet read the original text, but unfortunately owing to its era-specific satire, many of the jokes and pastiches of intellectual currents are somewhat lost on the modern reader.
Nov 09, 2009 Michael rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction-a-z
Fiction A-Z Book 'Q': Fortress Besieged by Qian Zhongshu

This wasn't as accessible as some of the other Chinese Fiction I've read. There were a lot of characters to focus on, and there's a wall of period social convention that must be scaled to really get a sense of the book. But Qian has a lot to say about relationships, most of which is still relevant today. It's a good book, but not an easy one to get through.
R. August
Dec 26, 2007 R. August rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Brilliant. Our hero is one who most people, and especially myself, can relate to. The minor struggles that the marriage goes through, knowing full well that if any one of several environmental stresses were different (money, food, no war, no other family members, jobs) they would probably have stayed together. The last paragraph was probably the best ending of any book I've ever read. Brilliant.
Jun 07, 2015 Restaino marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: china, acquistati
"Qian Zhongshu's classic 1947 novel Fortress Besieged (available in English translation) is perhaps the best evocation in fiction of what the tumultuous politics of the 1930s meant for China's own citizens as they coped with the onset of war and the horrors that followed." Rana Mitter, The Guardian, Friday 8 June 2012.
Dec 30, 2012 Maggie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Read this for Charles Laughlin's Modern Chinese Lit class....Qian Zhongshu was a genius and it really comes through in the book. It's so long but he's a great writer (you have to be somewhat comfortable with references to traditional Chinese literature and history) and it's a great story.
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Qian Zhongshu (November 21, 1910 – December 19, 1998) was a Chinese literary scholar and writer, known for his wit and erudition.

He is best known for his satirical novel Fortress Besieged. His works of non-fiction are characterised by their large amount of quotations in both Chinese and Western languages (including English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, and Latin). He also played an important
More about Qian Zhongshu...

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