Paper Republic: Chinese Literature Matters

Chinese writers with attitude. Born in 1982.

By Cindy M. Carter, published

I have to admit: I've often dismissed (and sometimes dissed) the generation of Chinese writers born in the 1980s. There were so many prodigies, kids who started publishing not long after they became pubescent. Clearly, there was some precocious talent, but by the second or third book, you had to wonder if these teenage authors had experienced enough of life to be able to write about it.

I'm not asking that question anymore. The kids have come of age. They're in their mid- to late-twenties now, they've got a different attitude than their predecessors, they're blogging, and they're definitely writing some things worth reading.

I've been following the post-80's writers for a while now, and am finally seeing some things that knock my socks off.

Here are some short bits from two authors, both born in 1982. Zhang Yueran has been writing since she was 14; Han Han published his first novel when he was 17. Both are among China's most popular writers, and have sold millions (probably closer to tens of millions) of books between them.

Han Han, in response to how he feels about being a "public intellectual":

"Being a public intellectual is a lot like being a public toilet. Anyone can stop by and take a piss for free, and they don't have to clean up afterward. If you try to charge them 50 cents for toilet paper, they'll bitch about it and start kicking at your walls. But a city's got to have public toilets, otherwise people just crap in the streets. It's a pretty pathetic role sometimes, but if everyone in the city, even those who have their own bathrooms at home, comes to take a dump in the public toilet, well then... maybe there's some hope for this society yet."

Zhang Yueran, in her recent short story "Gone Astray":

"I could tell right away that Lin was a kindred spirit. Meeting him made me realize that two 'kindred spirits' need not necessarily like each other. I wasn't even sure if I'd want him as a friend, but I had to admit we had a lot in common. Lin was older than I'd expected, forty at least, small and rather scrawny. But he didn't seem to have been born that way: it was more like a lifetime of disappointment had whittled him down to size."


# 1.   

Happy to read your post.90% of the chinese writers translated in France are over 50 years old.Only one publisher "L'Olivier" has been publishing books by Feng Tang, Murong Xuecun, Tian Yuan and Ma Xiaoquan; only Han Han's first novel has been translated, and of course Mian Mian and Weihui...; Chen Xiwo has just been translated. I am surprised that nobody is busy publishing a book of short stories from these young writers; I know short stories does not sell very well but still...In the 80s, tons of books have been published in Europe and in the US, concerning the young generation, not to forget the FLP books. The same goes with litterature on internet: all the writers publishing on Qidian or the other literary blogs cannot be rubbish all of them...This very important development is unheard of outside China or Japan although I am sure that it will have a major impact on the book business and on the publishing profession in the future.

bertrand mialaret, December 2, 2009, 9:29a.m.

# 2.   

I really liked Zhang Yueran's "Gone Astray" too. It's a million miles from an early book of her short stories which I once did a Reader's Report for - 十爱 "Ten Tales of Love" - incest, torture and murder on nearly every page (I exaggerate slightly, but only slightly). I looked back at the report and saw my last line was: [One could] "wait and see how she develops". Hah!

 Nicky Harman, December 6, 2009, 7:28a.m.


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