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Exploring Chinese Crime Fiction: the 3rd Book Review Network Weekend

Written by Dr Mia Chen Ma

Writing Chinese

"It featured an all-star cast of novelists and translators of those novelists. Amazing to have them all there in one place. The weaving together of a common theme of generic and nongeneric works all having a crime in them was ingenious."
Book Review Network member

The third residential weekend organized for the Reading Chinese Book Review Network recently took place, focusing on Chinese crime fiction from around the world. Led by the centre directors, Professor Frances Weightman, and Dr. Sarah Dodd, the event provided a platform for in-depth discussions on four captivating crime fiction works. The distinguished authors and translators Qiu Xiaolong, Zhang Yueran, Jeremy Tiang, and Michelle Deeter joined the event, with Kevin Chen participating remotely from New York.  

The event commenced with an insightful keynote speech by Professor Jeffrey Kinkley, shedding light on the multicultural background of “China’s others”. He emphasized the significance of considering paratextual elements, such as book covers, crime locations, market interests, and socio-political forces, when comprehending these texts fully. Following the keynote, each author or translator delivered a short presentation introducing their respective books. 

Qiu Xiaolong spoke about his book Love and Murder in the Time of Covid, sharing his intention to document a crucial part of history related to the zero-covid policy and reflect on its tragic outcomes. He explained how the genre of crime fiction, along with the character of Inspector Chen, enabled him to present a more comprehensive account of the information, policies, and events that unfolded during the zero-covid era. 

Jeremy Tiang, the translator for The Borrowed by Chan Ho-kei, discussed their collaboration and praised Chan's ability to write for an international audience. Tiang highlighted the exquisite arrangement of different historical periods within the anthology, offering a blend of familiarity and novelty, with Hong Kong serving as a captivating backdrop for the crime stories. The day concluded with a private film screening of A Land Imagined, directed by Yeo Siew Hua, which explored the hidden facets of modern Singapore. The film was followed by a stimulating discussion with Jeremy Tiang, engaging the audience further. 

"I thoroughly enjoyed the film "Land Imagined". I believe this film delivers an explicit message about the dividedness of urban cities and the invisible pain borne by migrant workers, which is often overlooked. It reveals another layer of reality in Singapore, beyond the modern infrastructure and high technology. This is a film worth watching multiple times to fully digest its rich messages."
-Book Review Network member

The second day featured presentations by Zhang Yueran and Kevin Chen, offering valuable insights into their creative processes and inspirations. Zhang drew attention to the lasting impacts of unresolved historical trauma on familial relationships. Her book Cocoon reflected the blurred boundaries between reality and fiction, inviting readers to recognize these invisible wounds and contemplate paths to healing. 

Kevin Chen, joining remotely from New York, shared different versions of book covers in various languages for his work Ghost Town. He emphasized the importance of engaging with paratextual elements to introduce his work to diverse audiences with varied backgrounds. Chen’s story delves into the symbolic meaning of ghosts in the Taiwanese context, blending an aesthetic of literary realism with his own obsession with the changing images of the ghost. 

Additionally, two books were pitched as recommendations for further reading during the weekend. Bad Kids by Chen Zijin, pitched by translator Michelle Deeter, and Rouge Street: Three Novellas by Shuang Xuetao, pitched by Jeremy Tiang, intrigued attendees and sparked further discussion on the contemporary Chinese literary and cultural contexts. 

Alongside the crime fiction weekend, a dedicated roundtable discussion took place on Friday. The panel of speakers included Professor David Platten, Professor Jeffrey Kinkley, Qiu Xiaolong, Jeremy Tiang, Zhang Yueran, and Li Beixi. The discussion covered several key topics, including translation as a process of intercultural exchange, translator’s liberty to adapt or modify the title to better suit the target language and culture, the decision-making process in publishing and rebranding, multimodality, and the scarcity of women crime fiction writers.

"This has broadened and enriched my concept of what is being written creatively in Chinese, well beyond the topic of crime literature."
-Book Review Network member