“You’re stepping on my shadow, please back off,” she said.

Sun Yisheng / Nicky Harman

In Frankfurt

By Eric Abrahamsen, published

EDIT: We've made a permanent home for the materials we brought to the Frankfurt Book Fair, which you can see by clicking here or following the link under the Explore Paper Republic heading on our home page.

So, very briefly: I and Nicky Harman have arrived in Frankfurt, where we'll be attending the Frankfurt Book Fair through the 28th.

In the near future I'll put up a longer, more detailed post about what we're up to here, but the short version is: we've come with a small packet of seven Chinese books that we think the whole world ought to translate and read. The small version of the packet can be downloaded by clicking here (PDF, right-click to download), and in the next couple of weeks we will be uploading substantial translation samples for each of those books, which can be downloaded separately. Take a look at the packet for now, and let us know what catches your fancy!


The sample from Han Dong's forthcoming novel Screwed!, can be downloaded here.

Three essays from Liang Wendao's Common Sense are here.


# 1.   

Hi Eric,

Ai Weiwei was asked about China's presence at the book fair and he said something along the lines of if China were a free society 99% of current published authors wouldn't be read. I was wondering if you agree with this, and if you do, which authors do you think would occupy this 1%?


FF, October 18, 2009, 6:46a.m.

# 2.   

Can you provide a link or source for the above quote? Thanks.

 cindy carter, October 18, 2009, 10:04a.m.

# 3.   

Hi Cindy, it was in an article in the Guardian. I cant find it in the online version, but here is a photo of the quote, if you are interested:


the article was by Justine Jordan.

Do you agree with this 1% statement? Which authors do you think would survive if there was no censorship?


FF, October 18, 2009, 11:32a.m.

# 4.   

This reminds me of some articles that have been written over the last 2-3 years noting that, lo and behold, many professional writers in former Communist societies in Europe and in the Soviet Union are now unable to make a living off their writing.

In my eyes, no need to know who said it in relation to China, or what percentage was cited.

Ai Weiwei's point is that when people have access to the basic facts in their lives, as well as a healthy multiplicity of voices, they lose interest in writing massaged to meet a narrow political agenda.

 Bruce, October 18, 2009, 6:42p.m.

# 5.   

Ai Weiwei is China's Michael Moore, a merry prankster with a deadly serious message. I view his art with whimsy, his writing with interest and his causes with tremendous respect, but I always take his proclamations and statistics with a grain of salt.

So maybe the 99% thing is a little overblown. Ai Weiwei is primarily an artist, and he's entitled to some artistic license. Let's grant him that, and add this qualifier, this piece of speculative fiction:

A People's Republic of China with all of the artistic, social, personal and political freedoms enshrined in its constitution (freedoms that remain, at present, only words on a page) would shift the literary curve to the right, and raise the quality of everyone's output. Some of the 99% would mature into serious and worthy authors. Others would continue being hacks. The top 1% would transcend their previous efforts. Others would be inspired to follow suit.

In a China with true artistic freedom, Yan Lianke's Dream of Ding Village might have been a non-fiction work, as he originally planned, rather than a novel. Then again, he might not have felt compelled to write a non-fiction book on the subject, had bookshelves, websites, newspapers and TV news reports been filled with detailed and accurate depictions of blood-selling, corruption, official cover-ups and stories about the plight of people with HIV and AIDS. Had there been an open social dialogue about the issue, editorials in newspapers, lawsuits and study groups and special reports on the evening news, maybe he would have written the novel anyway, but it would have been a very different novel.

 cindy carter, October 18, 2009, 11:26p.m.

# 6.   


In this alternate reality, Li Er would already have penned a book and screenplay about a bank robber who pulls off several big heists without ever being caught or punished. Zhu Wen and Wang Shuo might not have succumbed to frustration and stopped writing fiction, although they might still have been seduced by film. Shanghai Baby and Serve the People would never have been banned, although they wouldn't have come to the attention of overseas publishers or appeared in translation so soon. Mu Zimei would never have been on the radar. Han Han would probably still be popular, although he might spend less time racing cars.

Ma Jian might never have moved to England. Oh, he might have attended a literary festival or two in London, but he would have come back home when they were over. Ai Weiwei would probably not have spent a decade living in New York. Chinese feature film would be much more interesting, and Chinese independent documentary much less compelling. Chinese filmmakers would be less reliant on overseas distribution channels, and would place less importance on English translation of their subtitles and scripts. Our Paper Republic translators wouldn't lose our livelihoods, not exactly, but we might not get so many calls.

The state of Chinese literature would be better, but it wouldn't get so many column-inches in western newspapers. A number of foreign correspondents would be out of jobs, and there would be greater opportunities for Chinese journalists. This year's Frankfurt Book Fair would have been less controversial and less exciting. The "Tiananmen 10" would have been fined or sentenced to very short jail terms, rather than ending up dead, persecuted, expatriated or broken. It's also possible that by now, they would have been forgotten.

I'm not sure I've answered your question, FF.

But I think I've answered mine.

 cindy carter, October 18, 2009, 11:26p.m.

# 7.   

What Cindy said!

Ai Weiwei is a great and necessary presence, but sometimes his pronouncements are a little exaggerated, and I think this one's off the hook entirely.

 Eric Abrahamsen, October 19, 2009, 5:25a.m.

# 8.   

This is why I've taken to referring to Ai Weiwei as "Prickasso."

The Pooka MacPhellimey, October 21, 2009, 2:04p.m.

# 9.   

Also, surely 梁文道 should be "Leung Man-tao," not "Liang Wendao?"

The Pooka MacPhellimey, October 21, 2009, 2:06p.m.

# 10.   

It certainly should be Leung Man-tao, except when you read Chinese but don't speak Cantonese and don't even know how "Leung Man-tao" is meant to be pronounced. Then your brain sort of fixes it for you.

 Eric Abrahamsen, October 23, 2009, 1:22p.m.


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