Beijing Header

Archive for the ‘Literary News’ Category

Asymptote’s Sinophone “20 under 40” list

Asymptote, an online journal of literature from around the globe, will be celebrating its second anniversary at The Bookworm next Thursday in a special event on “Chinese Literature in Translation” with Pathlight magazine.

Last year, the journal’s editors compiled a Sinophone “20 Under 40” list profiling twenty of the most promising young authors in the Chinese-speaking world.

On the list: A Yi, who will be speaking at BLF 2013.

The piece calls A Yi “The Bullet that cuts through reality and absurdity” and continues:

A Yi is a writer who has known hardship. In the time he spent as a police officer, he encountered many corpses, each having met with a very specific and cruel death. The deaths’ specificity was what made them real to him; their cruelty made them stories waiting to be told. In the short story “Never Meant to Kill,” he tells one such tale, and even gives his real name (Ai Guozhu) to one of the dead people in the story.

An admirer of literature with depth and technique, A Yi’s own work sparkles with intelligence. Life may cheat you, he has said, and it may go on cheating you, but you shouldn’t cheat yourself. A Yi may not know which is the right way forward, but he has a high regard for the body—for its ability to react violently–, and for the human spirit and its propensity for independence. His stories have a common thread: Oppression and vulgarity are always defeated, freedom always the hard-earned prize….

In the chilling short story “First to Know,” the introspective protagonists believe that life is just killing time between active and passive modes, between the intentional and the unintentional. If these characters seem to contain shades of Borges and Camus, A Yi would add Faulkner, Alessandro Baricco, and Isaac Bashevis Singer to the list of writers he takes a page from. Hemingway, Dostoyevsky, Marquez, Yu Hua, and especially Kafka are other acknowledged influences. Yet this should not be understood as stealing from these masters: as much as A Yi has familiarized himself with the style of these western greats, he has at the same time rooted his work in a Chinese reality. Far from being stiff copies, his works, rendered in an utterly contemporary voice, burst with personality and soul. No wonder Bei Dao praised him as one of the best novelists writing in Chinese today.

Check Asymptote’s website for the entire feature.

Mo Yan’s Nobel Banquet Speech

Newly minted Nobel-laureate Mo Yan picked up his prize in Stockholm this past Monday.

His speech will do little to appease his critics (including Salman Rushdie, who with typical applomb called Mo Yan a “patsy” of the regime). It neither criticized government censorship nor called for the release of fellow Nobel Laureate dissident Liu Xiaobo.

Instead, the writer said that for “a farm boy from Gaomi’s Northeast Township in far-away China, standing here in this world-famous hall after having received the Nobel Prize in Literature feels like a fairy tale, but of course it is true.”

The closest reference to politics cames when Mo said, “I am also well aware that literature only has a minimal influence on political disputes or economic crises in the world, but its significance to human beings is ancient. When literature exists, perhaps we do not notice how important it is, but when it does not exist, our lives become coarsened and brutal. For this reason, I am proud of my profession, but also aware of its importance.”

Instead, he spoke of the impact that his rural upbringing had on his work, ending his speech: “I was, am and always will be one of you. I also thank the fertile soil that gave birth to me and nurtured me. It is often said that a person is shaped by the place where he grows up. I am a storyteller, who has found nourishment in your humid soil. Everything that I have done, I have done to thank you!”

Read the full speech here.

The 2012 Man Asian Literary Prize Longlist

Drum roll please! The novels longlisted for the prestigious 2012 Man Asian Literary Prize are out.

The list includes fifteen authors from nine different Asian countries. Special kudos to Chinese authors Sheng Keyi, of Northern Girls,and Tie Ning – The Bathing Women

The winner will be announced on March 14th, 2013. Good luck!

Full list:

–         Goat Days – Benyamin (India)

–         Between Clay and Dust – Musharraf Ali Farooqi (Pakistan)

–         Another Country – Anjali Joseph (India)

–         The Briefcase – Hiromi Kawakami (Japan)

–         Thinner Than Skin – Uzma Aslam Khan (Pakistan)

–         Ru – Kim Thúy (Vietnam / Canada*)

–         Black Flower – Young-Ha Kim (South Korea)

–         Island of a Thousand Mirrors – Nayomi Munaweera (Sri Lanka)

–         Silent House – Orhan Pamuk (Turkey)

–         Honour – Elif Shafak (Turkey)

–         Northern Girls – Sheng Keyi (China)

–         The Garden of Evening Mists – Tan Twan Eng (Malaysia)

–         The Road To Urbino – Roma Tearne (Sri Lanka / U.K.*)

–         Narcopolis – Jeet Thayil (India)

–         The Bathing Women – Tie Ning (China)

Tombstone: Remembering The Great Famine

Yang Jisheng, 72, spent a decade working undercover, secretly amassing official proof of China's great famine. "When you are writing history, you can't be too emotional. You need to be calm and objective," he says. "But I was angry the whole time. I'm still angry."

Yang Jisheng, 72, author of Tombstone, now available in English

“It’s not often that a book comes out that rewrites a country’s history.”

There are few Chinese families, mine included, who were not touched in some way by The Great Famine. Thirty-six million people died in the aftermath of Mao’s disastrous Great Leap Forward.
NPR’s Louisa Lim has just filed an important 2-part report on efforts to record the devastations of Mao’s Great Famine.
Part I: The lifelong work of a tenacious Xinhua reporter who refused to let history forget the man he called his father.
Part II:  The ongoing effort of young Chinese people to gather and preserve a oral history if the period.
From Part I:
“For Yang Jisheng, now 72, the famine hit home while he was away. He was 18, busy preparing a newspaper for his boarding school’s Communist Youth League, when a childhood friend burst into the room and said: “Your father is starving to death.”

Yang rushed home to find a ghost town — no dogs, no chickens, even the elm tree outside his house was stripped of bark, which had been eaten.

Yang Jisheng, 72, spent a decade working undercover, secretly amassing official proof of China’s great famine. “When you are writing history, you can’t be too emotional. You need to be calm and objective,” he says. “But I was angry the whole time. I’m still angry.”

The teenager took rice for Yang Xiushen, the man he called his father, but who was really his uncle. But the elder Yang was no longer able to swallow and died three days later.

“I didn’t think my father’s death was the country’s fault. I thought it was my fault. If I hadn’t gone to school, but had helped him dig up his crops, he wouldn’t have died,” Yang remembers. “My vision was very limited. I didn’t have the information.”

Listen and remember.

EWWC goes to Siberia

The Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference is a unique series of events that will bring writers together around the world to create an historic picture of the role of literature today. The conversation begins at the Edinburgh International Book Festival where 50 world renowned writers will join members of the public every afternoon from 17-21 August 2012 to discuss the five topics that almost brought writers to blows during the infamous Writers’ Conference of 1962. The World Writers’ Conference will go on to visit 15 different cities – including Beijing for BLF 2013 – over the following 12 months giving writers in different countries the chance to add their voice to the growing debate about writing and its relationship to contemporary life. You can also continue the conversation online at the Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference website, which will feature live broadcasts of the events in Edinburgh and videos of the international events.

Another week, another continent visited by the Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference. Following a packed 5 days in Toronto EWWC is now heading to Siberia at the Krasnoyarsk Book Fair.

Schedule of Events

Day 1: Thursday, November 1 –  Melvin Burgess will discuss with fellow author Andrei Astvatsaturov UK and Russian perspectives on the universal question ‘Should Literature be Political’?

Day 2: Friday, November 2 –   UK writer Tibor Fischer and the Russian author and critic Konstantin Milchin.explore ‘The Future of the Novel.’

Day 3: Saturday, November 3 – Theresa Breslin will bring the Scottish view to the question of ‘A National Literature?’ drawing comparison and contrast with a country the size of Russia, represented by Kirill Kobrin.

Browse full details here. A livestream will be embedded at  here. Join in the conversation!

BLF 2013: We’re hiring!

Interested in being a part of one of China’s premier cultural events? Join our team! We are hiring a few positions for BLF 2013.

Logistics Coordinator (part time)
Touring Program Coordinator (part time)
Junior Designer (project-based)

Email us to find out more about this positions.

Halloween Part II: Dress Like Your Favorite Author

Tonight, as Beijing’s ghouls hit the town in the standard witch, princess or superhero costume, may we suggest dressing up as an author? A few suggestions below.

Oscar Wilde: Velvet cape with fur collar, velvet smoking suit with matching velvet knee breeches (not pictured above), a paisley silk scarf tied in a carelessly floppy bow about the neck, silk stockings, velvet slippers with monogram, a walking stick with silver top, hair that would do a nineties boy band member proud, zinging wit.

Jonathan Franzen: A blue button up (other solid colors may be substituted), sports jacket, the ability to look boyish long after one has ceased to be a boy, thick framed black glasses (can be found at Yashow Market for 30 rmb). Bonus points for going as pair with literary bff David Foster Wallace.

David Foster Wallace: Long-ish wig. Bandana. Slightly too-small T-shirt. Cargo shorts. Shoes. I’ve yet to see a photo of DFW that shows his feet. What would he wear? Beat up Chucks? Teva sandals? Flip-flops from the local dime store? Tennis sneakers?

Jane Austen: Empire-waisted gown, fringed shawl, a maidenly cap, a cat, perhaps a feathered pen and scheming marriage-minded mother.

Herman Melville: Full Distinguished Facial Hair (caps intentional). A suitably sober suit with bow tie. Pipe and captain’s cap. Perhaps a harpoon?

Tom Wolfe: White three piece suit – jacket, double breasted  White socks. White faux-spats. Discreetly clashing shirt and tie. Silk pocket square and a single red carnation. Walking stick. Caution: You may be mistakened for Colonel Saunders.

Joan Didion: Bob wig (straight bangs optional). Oversized coat. Oversized glasses. Oversized everything. A cigarette. Flat Mary Janes and white stockings. A bottle of bourbon. Reporters notepad.

Zadie Smith: Bright scarf tied turban style about head. Vaguely vintage print dress. Obligatory literary darling glasses (see J. Franzen). Dot freckles over nose and cheeks using a brown eyeliner pen. Perfect bone structure and talent not included.


Halloween: Spooky Reads for All Hallow’s Read

A few years back, Neil Gaiman, author of such spooky reads as Coraline, The Sandman and The Graveyard Book, decided that the world had a problem: “There aren’t enough traditions that involve giving books.”

His solution:

“I propose that, on Hallowe’en or during the week of Hallowe’en, we give each other scary books. Give children scary books they’ll like and can handle. Give adults scary books they’ll enjoy.

I propose that stories by authors like John Bellairs and Stephen King and Arthur Machen and Ramsey Campbell and M R James and Lisa Tuttle and Peter Straub and Daphne Du Maurier and Clive Barker and a hundred hundred others change hands — new books or old or second-hand, beloved books or unknown. Give someone a scary book for Hallowe’en. Make their flesh creep…”
Sounds good. In honor of All Hallow’s Read (, a few Bookworms pick their favorite scary reads. Flashlight not included.
Kadi Hughes (Festival Director/ Marketing and Events Manager) The Road by Cormac McCarthy, because what’s scarier than the end of the world as we know it and roving bands of cannibals…
Anthropomorphic insects for some (my pick): James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl…
Or killer clowns (Heather Wright, BLF 2012 Migrant School Program Manager): It by Stephen King.

Speaking of spooky reads, join us this Sunday for a conversation with Julia Leigh. Leigh is the author if the darkly disturbing novels The Hunter and Disquiet and the writer/director behind Sleeping Beauty (not the Disney version).

Share your scariest reads on our Facebook page: Beijing Bookworm.
Bonus: For two more days, Gaiman is pairing up with to raise money for Booktrust and Donors Choose. Gaiman has made an audio recording of an as-yet-unpublished short story (scary, of course) avaialable free on For every download of the sotry, will make a contribution to the charities. Visit Gaiman’s blog for more info.


Mo Yan Wins 2012 Nobel Prize in Literature

And the winner of the 2012 Nobel Prize in Literature is…

Mo Yan!

The BLF 2009 alum Mo Yan, author of Red Sorghum and Big Breasts and Wide Hips, beat out early favorite Haruki Murakami to take home the field’s top honor. Announcing the decision, The Nobel Committee cited Mo’s use of “hallucinatory realism” to merge “folk tales, history and the contemporary.”

Peter Englund, head of the Swedish Academy, says of Mo’s work:

“He writes about the peasantry, about life in the countryside, about people struggling to survive, struggling for their dignity, sometimes winning but most of the time losing. The basis for his books was laid when as a child he listened to folktales. The description magical realism has been used about him, but I think that is belittling him – this isn’t something he’s picked up from Gabriel García Márquez, but something which is very much his own. With the supernatural going in to the ordinary, he’s an extremely original narrator.”

Mo Yan in conversation with Howard Goldblatt at BLF 2009

Ian Johnson on Yu Hua and Chinese Literaure

Yu Hua at BLF 2012

In the October issue of the New York Review of Books, Ian Johnson (Wild Grass, Chinese Characters) profiles fellow Bookworm Literary Festival participant Yu Hua (Brothers, To Live, China in Ten Words). After spending some time with the author in Yu’s hometown Hangzhou, Johnson muses that “[Yu’s] bawdy books might not be purely fictional; their characters and situations seemed to follow him around in real life too.”

During a “boozy lunch where the head of the local writer’s association ogled the legs of the deputy head of propaganda, while a paunchy singer for the People’s Liberation Army showed off a ‘talented young lady’ he had taken under his wing,” Yu Hua “treated the local notables to jokes, innuendos about corruption, and the failings of the Communist Party” and reduces one official whimpering: “We’re neighbors, we’re neighbors. Ha-ha. He’s joking.”

Johnson notes that “Yu’s career shows how these political and literary issues are linked. While in Hangzhou, Yu and I had a chance to talk about literature and politics, and what struck me most was a comment he made on criticism. What China most lacked, he said, was publications that would help create great literature: the journals, reviews, and magazines where young writers can get a start and receive honest criticism. In China, literary journals are either politicized or open to bidding, with favorable reviews bought by authors or their publishers. This isn’t to say that all criticism in China is corrupted, but much of it is, stifling the honest give-and-take that might encourage the creation of genuinely superior work.”

Read the rest of the piece here.

The Bookworm Download Map

Building 4, Nan Sanlitun Road,

Chaoyang District, Beijing

100027, P.R China

Tel: (010) 6586 9507

Email: [email protected]


Recent Comments