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January 2021: Li Juan 李娟

Li Juan was born in 1979 in Xinjiang. She spent many years living in Fuying County in Xinjiang’s Altay region, and began to publish her writing in 1999. The majority of her works centre on her own personal experiences and describe the landscape of the Kazakh nomads of the Altay region in Xinjiang. In 2003 she published a collection of essays entitled Nine Snows and in 2010 she published two collections of essays entitled My Altay and Corners of Altay. In 2011 she published a collection of essays entitled Travelling Through the Night: Please Sing Out LoudWinter Pasture, translated by Jack Hargreaves and Yan Yan, will be published in English this year by Astra House, and Distant Sunflower Fields will be published in English this year by Alain Charles Asia Publishing, translated by Christopher Payne.

Bio adapted from Paper Republic

With two works by Li Juan appearing in English translation this year, we're delighted to feature her as our first author of 2021. The work we've chosen is 'The Winter of 2009' (09年的冬天), translated by Lucy Johnston and first published in Pathlight magazine in 2011. It's a piece which gives a glimpse into a hard winter, and the author's resilience. You can read it in Chinese here, and English translation here.

If you'd like to read more of Li Juan's work, you can find 'The Road to the Weeping Spring' on Read Paper Republic here, also translated by Lucy Johnston, who is a translator working in Paris.

One of the founders of Paper Republic, Eric Abrahamsen, writes this about Li Juan, in an op-ed for the New York Times about Chinese literature:

"Li Juan... may be as far outside of the system as Chinese writers are able to get and still publish. She lives and writes in the Altay region of Xinjiang, in western China, musing on nomadic lifestyles and the turning of the seasons. Her literary career has taken what she calls the “wild path” — “wild” being traditionally used in Chinese to refer to things outside the establishment."

Paper Republic also provides a translation of an interview with Li Juan by author, editor and film-maker Ou Ning, in 2012, in which Li Juan discusses the issue of being 'an outsider', writing about non-Han lives as a Han Chinese herself:

"Her [Yerkex Hurmanbek] biggest inspiration to me was making me realize that I am Han Chinese, and when I describe the scenes and sights of this faraway, foreign place, no matter how close I myself might be, I’m always in the position of an outsider, standing on the sidelines, looking in, because you’re just not the same kind of people. It’s like how I really don’t like my writings on the village dances, even if at the time I was writing those things I really was full of all kinds of emotions, I really was taking it seriously and wasn’t making anything up- now that I think about it, that kind of thing just wasn’t worth writing about. As a Han Chinese, for me to write about that kind of thing- it’s just affected, much too affected. It’s so clear how different you are from them, in every way, whether it’s your mentality or your way of life, your emotions or whatever, it’s all so different, but you still go and try to wipe out all those discrepancies- that’s an extremely difficult thing to try to do and far more effort than it’s worth."

And we're looking forward to an upcoming online event about Li Juan's work with Alain Charles Asia Publishing, on Friday 5th so stay tuned for more details soon!