Chutzpah magazine, one of a handful of literary magazines coming out early this year, is the work of art critic, curator and general renaissance-man Ou Ning, currently head of the Shao Foundation in Beijing. Chutzpah (天南, or Tiannan, in Chinese) will be a bimonthly Chinese-language publication featuring original reportage and fiction, as well as translated articles from abroad, and an insert carrying English-language translations of selections from the magazine. Part of the Modern Media empire, Chutzpah will begin publication March 27.
Like most non-governmental literary periodicals in China, Chutzpah has had a complex and unusual history. In 1982 Tiannan appeared in its first incarnation as one of a host of literary publications that flourished during the "culture craze" of the 1980s, reaching a circulation of nearly 700,000 at its height. Like most other literary journals it suffered during the 1990s and early 2000s. The magazine's ISBN number (刊号, kānhào), which belongs to the Guangdong Wenlian Publishing House, was bought in 2005 by Modern Media, which renamed it Modern Book Reviews. "They kept the magazine on life-support by filling it with content from their other magazines," recounts Ou Ning, "then printing a few thousand copies and submitting it to the publishing authorities." In this way the ISBN number was kept current until it could be put to new use.
The magazine's new personality is evident in its English title: Ou Ning intends to push certain boundaries. Unlike magazines run by celebrity writers—Annie Baobei's O-pen or Guo Jingming's TopNovel— Chutzpah will avoid catering to the more fashionable youth literary set. "Our writers are mostly in the 35-50 range, though we are still aiming at a slightly younger readership," says Ou Ning. The contents of the magazine will be tightly tied to issues of social significance: the first issue is called "Agrarian Asia", and features writing from China and other Asian countries on certain rural issues. This includes a Chinese translation of Arundhati Roy's 1997 essay against dams and rural water usage in India ("a very passionate piece," says Ou Ning), an essay on Shinsuke Ogawa (an enormously influential Japanese documentarian from the 1960s), a long piece by Ye Fu on the consequences of rural tax reform in China ("definitely the most sensitive piece in the magazine"), and an article by Ou Ning on an agrarian artist's colony in Chiangmai, Thailand. The articles were chosen not only to foster the sense of a pan-Asian approach to rural quandries, but also to examine the experiences of other countries (particularly India and Japan) that have already gone through some of the transformations currently facing China.
Besides non-fiction connected to this theme, the inaugural issue of Chutzpah also features a handful of short stories, both on and off the rural theme, by Xu Zechen, Gu Qian and magazine co-editor A Yi. There's also poetry, photography, design and criticism (in this case, a Chinese-language review of Peter Hessler's Country Driving).
In addition to the magazine itself, Chutzpah comes with an English-language insert containing translations of selected pieces from the magazine (all fiction, in this first issue). The associated website is only tangentially related to the magazine itself, and carries mostly breaking news and short features on the Chinese and international literary scenes.
Chutzpah is priced at 28 yuan per issue, with 200-300 pages per issue. Circulation will begin modestly, says Ou Ning, with ten or twenty thousand copies per issue. Though Chutzpah resembles a book, it is not a "Mook"—the format employed by many new lit journals, in which magazine-style content is published with a book ISBN. Chutzpah's ISBN is a proper magazine ISBN, meaning that it can carry advertisement and be distributed through periodical channels as well as sold in bookshops.