What to Read Next
We asked our Writing Chinese symposium participants to give us their own recommendations of contemporary writers they particularly liked. Here’s what they came up with! (Wherever possible we’ve linked to their Paper Republic bio).
A wonderfully dark exploration of the darker side of human nature, and interesting to see a new unique voice coming through from China.
Possibly the most influential children’s writer in China, and known for his “pure” writing, he has set himself the task of leading a new way in Chinese children’s fiction. His writing is beautiful, and very visual, and he tells a good story. His children’s novel “Bronze and Sunflower” (Walker Books, April 2015) is a story about friendship in very difficult circumstances, and has been likened to Little House on the Prairie. It was also Ann Morgan’s Book of the Month on her website A Year of Reading the World. Like many of the bestselling children’s authors in China, Cao has written whole series of books. He also writes for adults.
Chen Xiwo’s fiction – exploring social and sexual corruption, impotence, voyeurism, and incest – is not for the faint-hearted. His stories are powerfully intense, sometimes distressing, and yet always fundamentally humane.
Writes short, readable novels, nine of which have been translated into French, but nothing into English.
The Right Bank of the Argun has been recently released, but more of her short stories should be translated. For example, the novella “Good Night Rose” is worthy of translation for the story and the historical background.
Di An’s stories often seem at first to have a fey, fantastical texture – featuring talking blue horses, or personified kitchen utensils – but once the reader starts to feel comfortable, she whisks away the surface layer of whimsy to reveal emotional depths of unexpected darkness underneath.
— Di An 笛安
One of China’s sharpest chroniclers of youth, her books have sold 700,000 copies each. Her ‘Dragon City’ series of books captures the ennui and frustration of young, urban, middle-class Chinese people with great tenderness and humour.
Experimental, original writer. Explores time and history with postmodern and philosophical thought.
His Shuiru Dadi has been translated into French as Une terre de lait et de miel. One of the most interesting novels concerning Catholics and Buddhists on the Sichuan/Tibet border.
A quiet craftsman of a writer, with a laconic, understated and humorous style. Han Dong is best known for his poetry, which I particularly admire, and had a formative influence on young poets of the 1980s and 1990s.
Explores the psychological condition of modern life with strange and sharp images and language.
A wonderful Taiwanese poet translated by Steve Bradbury, a translator based in the U.S. now. She’s known for refusing invitations to participate in symposiums and readings, etc., but perhaps she could be promoted online.
Considers Hong Kong with vivid language from the point of view of mental illness (schizophrenia).
Di An’s father. Where his daughter invented the anonymous metropolis of Dragon City, Li Rui’s emblem is ‘Silver City’ (translated by Howard Goldblatt), a small town where the ripples from larger political events leave indelible traces.
Writes for children and young adults. Her novel The Ventriloquist’s Daughter is an intelligent and compelling story of a young girl growing up and asserting her identity. To do so, she must survive the oppressive atmosphere at home, struggle against the traditional values of her grandparents, learn to manage her disappointment and frustration when her beloved father returns after years away. Crucially, she comes to understand that her father’s failure to assert his identity as a young man caused terrible consequences for the whole family. This book was recently selected for the Found in Translation anthology, and deservedly so.
Liu Qingbang 刘庆邦
A former coal miner turned novelist, his work uses the mining motifs expertly to depict the lives of workers toiling literally underground, invisible to the larger society until their desires and ambitions can no longer be ignored.
A fabulous writer, she is wickedly observant, and writes with incredible subtlety. She’s a great storyteller, and although her characters are clearly Chinese, and clearly live in a Chinese context, the way they respond to their individual situations reminds me so vividly of people I know, or have known, in the UK! Of all the authors I’ve translated, she is the one that intrigues me the most. I’d love to see her novel Dinner for Six translated into English. It’s about a blended family of six, and how their first awkward meetings, over lavish Saturday dinners, affect the rest of their lives.
Her memoir Three Lives tells of her existence in first China, then Taiwan, and finally America. Now firmly ensconced in the literary enclave of Iowa City, Professor Nieh has devoted her life and work to building connections between Asia and the West.
Another very popular children’s author in China, Shen is known as China’s “King of Animal Stories”. Having spent years living in Yunnan, he writes informatively and about animals and animal behaviour. He has written a series of books, and is consistently in the bestseller lists. His current bestseller is Dream of the Wolf King. In his novel Jackal and Wolf (Egmont, 2012), the matter-of-fact descriptions (baby animals eaten alive, one animal dying from leeches burrowing up his nostrils into his brain) have led to comparisons with Jack London’s Call of the Wild and White Fang. The title warns of the tension in the story (jackals and wolves don’t get on), and there is added tension because the jackal is a mother, who raises an orphaned wolf as her daughter.
Only a writer with the perceptiveness and precision of Shi Tiesheng could take his raw thematic material – love, faith, family, friendship – and produce something that lacks the slightest hint of mawkishness. He is best known for his personal essays, but his novel Wuxi Biji (Notes on Existence) is a masterpiece that is still as yet unavailable in English.
— Shi Tiesheng 史铁生
A major writer. ‘Ditan Park and I’ is one of the best pieces I have read in Chinese literature.
A writer who is always able to tell a good story; some of his best include Rice and My Life as Emperor.
A young author (born 1986) just starting out on his writing career. Writes surreal short stories which depict bizarre, dislocated scenarios in extremely precise, clever language. Quite captivating.
Remains of Life, currently being translated by Michael Berry, is a masterpiece of literature from Taiwan, which is often overlooked.
Taiwanese author Wu Ming-yi has received plaudits for the scope and ambition of his magical-realist eco-fable The Man With the Compound Eyes (translated by Darryl Sterk) – but he is just as capable of zooming in on the minutiae of domesticity in his childhood Taipei, or the biological mechanisms of a butterfly’s life cycle.
— Wu Ming-yi 吳明益
I hope that after The Man With the Compound Eyes, The Magician on the Bridge will be translated.
A mainland Chinese poet who’s translated by Lucas Klein, an Assistant Professor at the University of Hong Kong; their book of translations, Notes on the Mosquito: Selected Poems of Xi Chuan won the 2013 Lucien Stryk Prize and was shortlisted for the Best Translated Book Award from the University of Rochester.
A Hong Kong writer known primarily for her fiction, but her Selected Poems is coming out soon in English translation by Jennifer Feeley, a former Assistant Professor of Chinese literature at the University of Iowa who’s currently doing free-lance translations.
— Xi Xi 西西
Experimental in terms of form (structure), explores Hong Kong as a City from various perspectives.
Xia Jia has been publishing stories in genre magazines such as Science Fiction World for over a decade now; her distinctive tales, which blend lumps of hard sci-fi with globs of fantasy and mythology, are worthy of a wider audience beyond science-fiction circles.
Born 1953, and writing since the 1980s, Xu Xiaobin has had two novels, Dunhuang Dream and Feathered Serpent, as well as short stories, translated and published in the USA. Her latest novel, Crystal Wedding, focusses on a woman trapped in an abusive relationship, struggling to find happiness and creative fulfilment in the face of sexual and political repression. The Chinese version will not be published in China because the novel deals with Tiananmen 1989, and because of the sexual content. Painfully honest and perceptive.
Originally a popular, prize-winning YA writer, Yan Ge now writes realist fiction for adults, strongly Sichuan-based, focussing with warmth, humour and razor-sharp insights on squabbling families and small-town life.
A writer who is exceptional in the way that she is able to write and create strong female protagonists which are universally appealing and often setting her stories against interesting historical backdrops. Also interesting how her stories travel from book to TV to film.
A wonderfully experimental writer who isn’t afraid to write from the heart and on the subject of politics.
Also translated by Steven Bradbury; she incorporates video with her poetry.
A very versatile writer who has written some great fiction, including To Live, and interesting spot-on non-fiction.
China is not short of writers who swear fealty to Borges, but Zhu Yue is one of the few whose work has the philosophical weight to substantiate the metafictional trimmings. Rarer still is the kind of dry humour he brings to his brief but highly evocative stories.
Playwright, poet, screenwriter, essayist, fiction writer, Mr. Zou seems able to transcend genres with ease, and writes of his experience of being ‘sent down’ during the Cultural Revolution without bitterness, only compassion.