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

Sun Yisheng / Nicky Harman

Mo Yan Q&A with Russian Fans of Chinese Lit

By Eric Abrahamsen, published

The Chinese writer Mo Yan has kindly agreed to answer questions by Oriental Hemisphere (Vostochnoye Polushariye), Russia's biggest website on the day-to-day life, history and culture of the Far East and South East Asia, in connection with forthcoming publication of Mo Yan's 酒国 (The Republic of Wine) translated into Russian by Igor Yegorov (aka yeguofu). English translation courtesy of Igor Yegorov.

Question: Has your recent visit to Russia left you with new impressions? Has your notion of the country changed, compared to that of the past?

Answer: I visited Russia for the first time in summer of 1996. It was a two-day tour in a small town next to the Chinese frontier city of Manzhouli. My impressions of that day fitted badly with the notion of Russia that I had formed while reading books by Russian authors. It was not until 2007 when I went to Moscow to take part in the Year of China Book Exhibition that I fully appreciated the space and grandeur of the country. The vast Russian expanses which seem to have no boundaries, conceal the boldness and a big way of the country combined with its delicacy and soft beauty.

Q: What do you feel about Russian literature and who is your favorite Russian author?

A: Russian literature was first of all foreign literatures that I got acquainted with. When still a child I read The Tale of the Fisherman and the Fish by Pushkin in my elder brother's school textbook, then I went through The Childhood (My Universities) by Gorky. Of course, like any Chinese youth of those times, I read How the Steel Was Tempered by Nikolai Ostrovsky. My favorite Russian author, Mikhail Sholokhov, and his novel Quiet Flows the Don have added a lot to my formation as a writer.

Q: Can you give the names of worldwide famous writers, both Chinese and foreign, whose influence on you was greatest?

A: Apart from Sholokhov, that would be Leo Tolstoy, Ivan Turgenev, Garcia Marquez and William Faulkner.

Q: What's your evaluation of the progress of contemporary Chinese literature in the last 30 years? What books would you call its milestones?

A: I believe the progress achieved by Chinese literature in the last 30 years is significant. In addition to creation by other authors, the books of mine including The Red Sorghum Family, Big Breasts, Wide Hips, The Republic of Wine, and Life and Death are Wearing Me Out can be considered as its milestones too.

Q: Whose work among the young and talented 'post-80s' authors, such as Zhang Yueran or Feng Tang, for instance, you would like to point out as most promising?

A: These two are not bad. I do not know much about the rest of the 'post-80s' authors.

Q: Your books were highly praised by the Japanese Nobel Prize Kenzaburo Oe. Do you appreciate his work? Are you friends?

A: It is Mr Kenzaburo Oe's early prose that I like very much, including his short story "Prize Stock", novels A Personal Matter, The Silent Cry and other works. He is my teacher and friend.

Q: Your output of large novels in a short time is amazing, nothing like any of your contemporary Chinese writers. What is your motivation and your usual style of work?

A: Actually my output is not that large, but the evident reason might be the multitude of characters in my books. This, probably, is why any work of mine can to a certain extent produce feedback and attract people.

I do not write anything just like that. However, once I put myself to writing, I erupt material like a volcano. I do not write for several years between the books. For instance, after publication of Life and Death are Wearing Me Out in 2006, it was not until the end of 2009 that my new work – The Frog appeared.

Q: The Republic of Wine is a very complicated and unusual novel, very much unlike any other of your books. Do you think it is the right choice to acquaint the Russian readers with your work?

A: Any Russian readers who appreciate The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, will, no doubt, find my novel to their liking.

Q: The Republic of Wine is lavish with proverbs and sayings, chengyu idioms, literary allusions, quotations from classical poetry, including some parts written in old literary language. Who is your favorite ancient poet and poem?

A: From among the ancient poets Li Bo is my favorite and his poem "Bringing in the Wine" (将进酒) is very much to my liking, particularly the lines:

君不见黄河之水天上来,奔腾到海不复回,
君不见高堂明镜悲白发,朝如青丝暮成雪

五花马,千金裘,呼儿将出换美酒,与尔同销万古愁1

Q: The abundance of quotations and images from Water Margin (水浒传)makes one think that this your favorite Chinese classics. Is that true?

A: I do love Water Margin, it used to be the favorite reading of my childhood days.

Q: My favorite saying by Confucius is: 子曰三人行必有我师焉 ["When I walk along with two others, they may serve me as my teachers." – Legge]. Can you quote your favorite ancient saying for our readers?

A: Confucius said: 已所不欲,勿施于人 ["That which you do not desire, do not do unto others"].This is both my lifelong criteria and favorite saying.

1Have you never seen
the Yellow River’s waters –
– how they surge from heaven to the sea, never turning back?
Have you never seen
how they grieve in palace mirrors over their hair –
– silky black at dawn, snowy white by dusk?

My sleek horse,
My furs worth a thousand –
– call the boy, and have him pawn them for wine,
And we’ll drink away the cares of ten thousand ages.

Translation by Brendan O'Kane

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