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Bookworm Festival Pulse: ‘Inspector Chen’

‘Inspector Chen’ novelist says Chinese society crumbling under materialism

A repost from the news agency efe-epa

Chinese crime novelist Qiu Xiaolong at BLF session: “Becoming Inspector Chen”. 

Novelist Qiu Xiaolong, best known for famous crime fiction series of “Inspector Chen”, says the Chinese society, including himself, has lost all its ideals and is morally collapsing under the weight of materialism.

In an interview with EFE, the Shanghai-born, United States-based novelist spoke about the transformations he, his character and China have experienced in the last three decades after the Tiananmen Square massacre – one of the most sensitive issues for the Chinese authorities even today.

“Thirty years ago, people were more idealistic and wanted to change things. But now, people are not so optimistic anymore. We are all more cynical and we are all more disappointed, including my main character and me,” Qiu said.

The novelist said the reality of China was complex and he often felt confused.

The country is improving at many levels all the while revealing a moral collapse with materialistic tendencies that “will have a cost”, he warned.

“Today, young people do not care about all these things. Many are content to make jokes on social networks. The important thing (for them) is to make money and I am worried because there is no desire to fight anymore,” said Qiu who was at a bookshop in the Chinese capital for a talk about his work.

His crime series of detective-poet Chen Cao as the protagonist have all been set in Shanghai where he was born in 1953.

The series, spanning almost two decades now, portrays murky relations between police and the Chinese Communist Party. It lets readers peek into the dark side of Shanghai of the 1980s under the rule of Deng Xiaoping when crime seemed an order of the day.

“For me, it is not just about who killed whom. These are crimes that interrelate with corruption, with pollution and the pollution of the mind, even alienation (…) But the most important thing is in which kind of social, cultural background the crime and the investigations take place,” said the author.

“I hope my books can serve as a window to all the hidden things that happen in China,” says Qiu.

He acknowledged the influences in his work of European authors such as the Spanish Manuel Vazquez Montalban, the Italian Andrea Camilleri and the Swedish pair Mark Sowall and Per Wahloo, who exposed the evil of contemporary societies through the noir fiction.

Recognizing that he has a social responsibility, the novelist confessed he has had to deal with censorship many times as his editors have had to translate and re-translate and he must accept cuts and adjustments to be able to publish in China.

“In one novel, they falsified the name of the city of Shanghai to ‘H’ but everybody knew it was about that city,” said Qiu.

About his life in the US, he said he travelled to America in 1988 to work for a year but ended up staying forever as The Tiananmen Square riots erupted the following year and the Chinese authorities blacklisted him and froze the publication of a book of poems.

“I hope that in the near future, the Chinese will be able to talk about all this. Nobody, not even your ownself, should tell you what to write or what is desirable,” says Qiu, the son of a victim of the Cultural Revolution reprisal and a Chinese translator of the works of T.S. Eliot, Joyce, Faulkner and Conrad, among many others.

The writer said in his next adventure he was looking to mix the adventures of Inspector Chen with another case set in the times of the Tang dynasty (618-906 AD) where then, as now, “there are no private investigators or judicial independence, but high-ranking officials who dictate all the rules”.

“Classical Chinese literature is very (much) linked to poetry and poetry is very important for me and for Inspector Chen,” he said, given that in almost all of his works there are references or transcriptions of poems.

“Love for poetry makes us more human,” said the author, whose novels have been published in Spain by Tusquets publishers: “Death of a Red Heroine” that won the Anthony award in 2001; “Visa for Shanghai”, “Red Mandarin Dress” and “The Mao Case” among others.

By Jesus Centeno

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