Zhang Xinxin was born in 1953 and grew up wandering the alleys in Beijing’s walled Old City. As a twelve-year-old at the outbreak of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, she was recruited by the Red Guards. At fifteen, she was sent to China’s Great Northern Wilderness with millions of other children to toil on collective farms. She was a soldier at seventeen; after falling seriously ill, she became a nurse at nineteen. When the Cultural Revolution ended in 1979 and university entrance examinations resumed, she was admitted to the Beijing Central Academy of Drama, where she studied to become a director. After a novel published while she was a student drew heavy criticism from the state and left her unemployable, she wrote the acclaimed oral history Chinese Lives, which has been translated into more than ten languages. She later hosted a television series and worked as a theatre director for the Beijing People’s Art Theatre. After the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests left her stranded in the United States, she worked for a digital publishing network, wrote screenplays for Chinese television, and worked as a commentator for the VOA. She has self-published a graphic novel and directed several TV series, and continues to write in the Chinese language.
– Bio from Words Without Borders
This July we’re very happy to feature Zhang Xinxin as our author of the month. Rather than a piece of fiction, this month we feature a piece of autobiographical writing, which you can read both in English and Chinese: ‘Self Portrait‘ (自画像) – translated by Helen Wang and first published on Read Paper Republic.
In addition to this, we’ve included an excerpt from another autobiographical piece, ‘After the Inferno‘ (地狱之后), also translated by Helen and published on Words Without Borders (one of the recent winners of the inaugural Whiting Literary Magazine Prize, for ‘Working tirelessly to bring a robust, insightful array of otherwise unavailable international literature to grateful readers and publishers.’).
And you can find out more about her graphic novel Paihuazi and the Clever Girl 《拍花子和俏女孩》on the Chinese Books for Young Readers blog.
We’re also delighted to announce that Xinxin and Helen will be coming to Leeds on July 16th to talk about their work (more details to follow). There’s a particular Leeds connection with Xinxin’s work, as her acclaimed oral history written with Sang Ye – Chinese Lives: An Oral History of Contemporary China – was edited and translated into English by Delia Davin and Bill Jenner, both formerly professors of Chinese in the Department of East Asian Studies here at Leeds, though Delia sadly passed away in 2016.