Chinese Literary Fiction – a review of the evening

On Wednesday 18th April we were fortunate enough to have a distinguished panel of Chinese authors in the shop talking about their work. Tom Griffiths, who has been a bookseller in his native New Zealand and here at Blackwell’s as well as being a post-graduate student of Ancient
Chinese shares his views on the evening:

“Billed as a rare event offering insights into the literary landscape of modern China, Wednesday’s panel discussion with Ma Jian, Li Er, and Geling Yan provided a packed cafe with a chance to see three great figures discuss their writings in a relaxed environment. In listening to Ma Jian’s personal tale of visiting his comatose brother and missing the Tiananmen Square protests, or Geling Yan’s depiction of what she termed a “beautiful suicide,” we the audience were entertained by accomplished storytellers.

 The panelists all agreed that the weight of their country’s history impacts directly on the people of China and the panelists own stories. All three of them set their latest novels in different time periods and yet agreed on a theme of history. Li Er eloquently explained to his Western readers history’s great importance to modern Chinese: the recurring times of chaos do not simply affect the government or the political system, he argued, but drive the whole country into disorder, wiping out so much of what had come before. The destruction and reinvention of Chinese society has provided these three authors with material for their writings and provided a topic of discussion for the panel.

 Wednesday evening’s event was held shortly after the closing of the 2012 London Book Fair, a three day long British Council run exhibition that this year carried a special market focus on China. Due to the nature of the London Book Fair, the focus on China was predominantly on the workings of the international publishing industry, and on building/strengthening links between the British publishing houses and their Chinese counterparts. The focus on China attracted controversy and protest around the censorship and selection of Chinese authors permitted to attend, highlighting a topic that will continue to be present in discussions of contemporary Chinese fiction. Blackwell’s panel event differed greatly in its aims and its successes. The panel, consisting of dissenting writers and mainland writings, freely discussed literature and art, and I came away without an increased understanding of the nature of Chinese-British publishing relationships but with a desire to read more contemporary Chinese fiction: a desire that I plan to begin to sate with my newly signed copy of Ma Jian’s Beijing Coma.”

The following books relevant to the evening are currently available in the shop

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