20111122-amazon jin Yong.jpg ”Post-80s writers “refers to young writers that have grown up under the one-child policy and write about things that young readers can relate to. These writers were popular in the 2000s. Among them were Guo Jingming, who was 24 in 2007 and wrote novels about adolescent love and isolation that are particularly popular with teenage girls; and Zhang Yueran, who was 25 in 2007. Guo edited a monthly magazine focused on “Post-80s writers “that has a circulation of over 500,000. He is regarded as one of richest writers in China in the 2000s.

Sichuan authors such as Guo Jingming, Yang Hongying, Sharon, and He Ma are among the most popular writers in China. Mai Jia from Sichuan is one of the only literary authors to make the bestseller list. All these authors work with publishers based outside of Sichuan. Li Ximin, an author of thrillers who was propelled to national attention in May 2008 when he was trapped in a collapsed building for three days after the Sichuan earthquake. Xu Xi is an acclaimed Hong-Kong-based writer who writes gritty, realistic stories about Hong Kong in the 1960s. She has been named a finalist the Man Asian Literary prize, which recognizes Asian novels unpublished in English. British and American publishers have shown interest in her work. HarperCollins’ $60,000 payment for the English version of Xiao Bai’s novel “Zu Jie” (published as “The Foreign Concession”) was seen as a major shot in the arm for the publication of Chinese literature in English.

Many best-selling authors in the 2000s had their own branded magazines. Guo Jingming, China’s No. 1 top-selling writer, edited Top Novel, Girlneya edited a self-titled magazine, and Ming Xiaoxi was attached to Princess. Some observers suggested that Guo landed at the top of the 2008 rich author's list because of revenue from Top Novel. Zheng Yuanjie, China’s No. 2 top-selling writer, also ran his own magazine, King of Fairy Tales. The rich author list ascribed his high ranking to royalties from his considerable back-catalog, but the magazine might also have something to do with it.

Jia Pingwa is considered one of the most original and influential novelists in contemporary China. A prolific writer, he has nonetheless been “under-translated” for a long time. He is known using dialects to add local flavor. He wrote "Qin Opera" with a lot of obscure dialect and idioms of Shaanxi province. Ruined City (University of Oklahoma Press, 2016) has been translated by Howard Goldblatt into English. It is set in thinly-disguised city like his hometown of Xian. Ruined City has unusual pacing and interesting characters and is notorious for its graphic sexual scenes. Carlos Rojas' translation of “The Lantern Bearer” came out in May 2017 and “Happy Dreams” translated by Nicky Harman was published in October 2017. “The Earthen Gate” translation was release by British Valley Press in May 2018. “Old Kiln” has a translation by Canaan Morse on Paper Republic. “Turbulence: A Novel” was translated by Howard Goldblatt and released in 2003." [Source: China Daily, May 25, 2018]

Cao Wenxuan (born in 1954) is among the most beloved writers in China and best known for his children’s novel. In 2016 he became the first Chinese author to receive the Hans Christian Andersen Award, regarded as the most distinguished international honor for children’s literature, given out every other year. “Sunshine and playtime are not the hallmarks” of his book, says the New York Times. In announcing the award, the International Board on Books for Young People said: “Cao Wenxuan’s books don’t lie about the human condition,”“They acknowledge that life can often be tragic and that children can suffer.” [Source: Amy Qin, New York Times, May 1, 2016]

Modern Chinese Writers and Literature: MCLC Resource Center mclc.osu.edu ; Modern Chinese literature in translation Paper Republic paper-republic.org ; Wang Shou Wikipedia article on Wang Shou Wikipedia ; Shanghai Baby Book Reporter Review bookreporter.com ;

Wang Shou, the Chinese Leonard Elmore


Wang Shou was the undisputed king of Chinese pulp fiction in the 1980s and 90s. Described by the Communists as a hooligan, he wrote about disaffected youth and loveless cynicism in Beijing. Over 10 million copies his books have been sold. Today his books are available on the Internet. A couple were made into successful films. Wang is closely associated with Beijing. Nearly all of his novels feature the Beijing dialect, which gives works character and humor.

Wang life is not much different from some of the grungy characters in his books. While he was young his parents were sent away to a Cultural Revolution re-education camp and he grew up without much adult supervision. He ate at a community canteen, lived with his older brother and subsisted off his parents salaries. As a teenager he skipped school often and ended up in jail from time to time. After one run in with the law, his father forced him to join the navy, where he published his first short in a military magazine for $5. After being released from the navy he worked for a while as a smuggler and an employee at a pharmaceutical firm before taking up writing as a career. In 1991, bored with novel writing, Wang began producing scripts for television and film. He had relationships with a Communist Youth League secretary and an stewardess before marrying a dancer, with whom he had a daughter.

Wang’s streetwise and sarcastic dramas, such as “Tales From the Newsroom”, about two ridiculous Mao-loving editors, were big hits. His first novel, “Stewardesses” (1984), was about a sleazy relationship between a young flight attendant and a discharged sailor. His most popular book, “Hot and Cold, Measure for Measure”, was about a college girl, seduced by a lowlife ex-con, who then becomes a hooker and finally commits suicide. The main characters his 20 other best-selling novels include prostitutes, gangsters, drifters and other unsavory creatures from the dark side of Chinese life. More than a dozen of his books have been made into films, and television drama.

Many say Wang's masterpiece is “Playing for Thrills”. It is about hard, drinking, womanizing gambler who spends the better part of his life drinking, gambling and chasing women, and may have been involved in a murder. It was a best seller in China. “Please Don’t Call Me Human” is also very good. It is about martial arts athelete who learns about greed as he aims to win a gold medal. Both books have been banned in China and translated into English.

Censorship and Wang's Work

In 1996, Wang's works were banned as "reactionary" and "vulgar." Two television shows he scripted were kept from being aired and two movies were cut to pieces by censors. One of the films, “Papa”, was about a boy beaten up by gangsters and then taken to the hospital during the 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstrations. "Based on last year's standard this would have been approved," he said.

The prohibition of Wang's work was part of a "spiritual civilization," a 15,000-word directive by Jiang Zemin that aimed not only to crack down on criticism of the Communist party but also on anything that encouraged "social vices."

A commentary in the People's Daily seem to have Wang in mind complained that some artists and writers are "bent on describing normal people's trivial affairs, tempests in teacups, even to the point of including bedroom scenes. Not only did the works of some artists lose their ideals and sink into moral depravity they even went so far as to ridicule noble values and promote the worship of hedonism and extreme individualism. This situation cannot but draw the proper attention and anxiety.”

Wang had to remove a shower scene in which men were filmed from the waist up and scrub an entire film about an extramarital affair. "The lovers didn't even kiss, Wang told the Washington Post. "But [the censors] felt that popularizing an immoral relationship is immoral. With “Bridges of Madison County”, it was okay to watch you Americans have extramarital affairs because we think you guys are all immoral anyway." When his work gets banned, Wang says that he spends most of his time playing poker.

Murong Xuecun, China's Pioneering Internet Writer

Murong Xuecun, the pen name of Hao Qun, is one of China’s most famous Internet writers and one of its earliest. He rose to fame riding the first wave of China's earliest online surge at in the early and mid 2000s. His enormously popular novel "Leave Me Alone: A Novel of Chengdu" was written in serialized form that had millions of fans waiting eagerly for each new installment on the web.

Edward Wong wrote in the New York Times, Murong Xuecun (moo-rong shweh-tswen) is the pen name of Hao Qun. At 37, he is among the most famous of a wave of Chinese writers who have become publishing sensations in the past decade because of their canny use of the Internet. Mr. Murong’s books are racy and violent and nihilistic, with tales of businessmen and officials engaging in bribe-taking, brawling, drinking, gambling and cavorting with prostitutes in China’s booming cities. He is a laureate of corruption, and his friends have introduced him at dinner parties as a writer of pornography. That his books are published at all in China shows how the industry, once carefully controlled by the state, has become more market-driven.But Mr. Murong’s prose inevitably runs up against censorship, which the Chinese Communist Party is intent on maintaining despite the publishing industry’s gradual changes. Mr. Murong says he is a “word criminal” in the eyes of the state, and a “coward” in his own eyes for engaging in self-censorship. His growing frustrations have pushed him to become one of the most vocal critics of censorship in China. After zipping his mouth in Beijing last November, he delivered his banned speech three months later in Hong Kong. [Source: Edward Wong, New York Times, November 6, 2011]

CNN reported: “If it weren't for the Internet, Murong Xuecun might still be working as a sales manager at a car company in the southern Chinese city of Chengdu. That is what he was doing when he started writing his first novel on his office's online bulletin board system back in 2001. Week by week when he got home from work, Murong would post new pieces to a story that painted a bleak yet honest picture of modern urban life in the city where he lived. It contained tales about sex, love, gambling and drugs and became so popular that it soon appeared on numerous other online forums. By 2009, he was considered one of the most famous authors to have emerged in contemporary China. His debut work, “Leave Me Alone: A novel of Chengdu,” has been read by millions of Chinese “netizens” and adapted for film and television and translated into German, French and English.” [Source: Lara Farrar, CNN.com, February 15, 2009]

Murong Xuecun on His Early Life

Murong Xuecun wrote in the South China Morning Post: In the late 1950s and early 60s a great famine swept across China and my paternal grandfather starved to death. Fearing hunger, my grandmother fled from Shandong province to northeast China with her three children in tow, including my mother. She would go on to meet my father in a small village in Jilin province. The village was situated in the foothills of the Changbai Mountains, a range that crosses Manchuria and North Korea. In winter, the place could freeze like ice cream. [Source: translated by Thomas Bird, South China Morning Post, July 18, 2020]

“I was born there at the tail end of the Cultural Revolution, in 1974, the middle child of three but I have few memories from those years. When I was two years old, my parents took us back to Shandong, where we lived in Xunzhai Village, a tiny little place situated about 30km from the port city of Qingdao. My prevailing memory from this period is one of poverty. We only ate meat twice a year and all my clothes were patched and worn. When, in 1988, my father died, my mother took us back to Jilin. To this day, I never know whether to say that I’m a Shandonger or a Northeasterner.

“As a young rural kid I had to help with the farm work. Every year, once the wheat harvest was brought in, the villagers would invite a blind storyteller to tell us oral folk tales. He would regale us with the adventures of historical heroes, demons and ghosts. For us, this was like opening a door to the world beyond the limits of our own humdrum existence. He inspired me to become a reader. I started with the comic-book versions of classics like Romance of the Three Kingdoms. By my early teens, I was reading full works of Chinese fiction even if I couldn’t under-stand all the words. There weren’t many books in the countryside at that time so I would read anything I could get hold of. Once I went to dinner at a relative’s house, where I found a newspaper. I remember sitting on the kang (Chinese bed-stove) and reading it from cover to cover.

“My mother had only three years of schooling, my father none at all. But my generation was different as we lived through more stable times. In Jilin, I took the gaokao exam and was admitted to the China University of Political Science and Law, in Beijing, in 1992, where I studied for four years. The campus was 30km from the city centre and we seldom went into “town”, as we called it. To be honest, I had little interest in the legal profession and didn’t see myself becoming a lawyer or a judge but it was a good school so I just persevered until I graduated. Later, of course, I would use my knowledge of the legal profession acquired at this time — as well as some dirty stories I heard — when writing my fourth novel, Dancing Through Red Dust (2015), a thriller about a corrupt lawyer.

“After I graduated, in 1996, I went to work in a state-owned company in Chengdu, Sichuan province, where I was employed as both a legal adviser and as a salesperson. The salary was low, just 280 yuan a month, and it was a really unstimulating job. But I was reasonably happy, as any freshly graduated young person would be, and spent much of my time hanging out with friends and playing mahjong. Chengdu is a leisurely city by Chinese standards and the food is out of this world. I put on weight there. After two years at the state-owned company, I couldn’t take the tedium any more so I left to work in the private sector. I found work in a skincare company, which transferred me to Shenzhen.

Murong Xuecun’s Use of the Internet

Edward Wong wrote in the New York Times, “Mr. Murong owes his commercial success to the fact that he has found ways to practice his art and build a fan base on the Internet, outside the more heavily policed print industry.He addresses political issues on both a blog and a microblog account that resembles Twitter, which has nearly 1.1 million followers. He posts his novels chapter by chapter or in sections online under different pseudonyms as he writes. This Dickens-style serialization generates buzz, and the writing evolves with reader feedback. Once the book is finished or nearly so, Mr. Murong signs with a publisher. The censored print editions make money, but the Internet versions are more complete. [Source: Edward Wong, New York Times, November 6, 2011]

In 2004, the state-run China Radio International called Mr. Murong’s popular first novel a “cyber trendsetter” in a report that was reposted on the Web site of the newspaper People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s mouthpiece. Local officials in the city of Chengdu, where the story is set, denounced it. The uncensored version of the novel, “Chengdu, Please Forget Me Tonight,” was translated into English (“Leave Me Alone: A Novel of Chengdu”) by Harvey Thomlinson and nominated in 2008 for the prestigious Man Asian Literary Prize. “I simply found it extremely fun to do,” Mr. Murong said of writing online, as he chain-smoked one afternoon in his 26th-floor Beijing apartment overlooking the Western Hills, a jester’s grin on his boyish face. “Later, I realized that the writers and readers on the Internet changed the course of Chinese literature and started a new phenomenon.”

"Leave Me Alone: A Novel of Chengdu" was very popular on online forums. Later it was published in print form and still sold a million copies and was published in English. But after adopting the same formula for several later works, Murong decided to revert to a traditional publisher in 2010 when he released "the Missing Ingredient." “"I have to earn money to sustain myself, and printed books, at least, bring in the royalties," he told the China Daily. He got no money from his online success earlier, and the author says that the several contracts on digital rights he signed in recent years brought in only 50,000 yuan ($7,890), hardly enough for bread and butter. Murong enjoys his influence in the cyber world, but he admits that "being published is also a measure of pride". "Anyone can write online," he says, "but a book that gets printed undergoes a selection process with professional scrutiny and quality control." Murong feels that books on paper are irreplaceable, even though the publishing industry may atrophy as digital editions grow in strength. He is not alone in feeling that print will still be around, although there are signs that its survival may, oddly enough, depend on what appears online, too. [Source: Mei Jia China Daily, March 22, 2012]

Murong Xuecun on His Writing Career

Murong Xuecun wrote in the South China Morning Post: At the turn of the millennium, the internet really began to affect our lives. It was about this time that a new generation of Chinese writers were serialising stories online. Before, fiction had been controlled by the state as all the novelists were members of the Chinese Writers Association, but now people could express themselves in all sorts of ways. I read a lot online and even had a go at posting some stories. [Source: translated by Thomas Bird, South China Morning Post, July 18, 2020]

“It wasn’t until 2002, by which time I was living and working in Guangzhou, that I decided to write a full-length work of fiction. I had witnessed a lot as a white-collar worker. So I resolved to write Leave Me Alone: A Novel of Chengdu, based on an ex-colleague who had been arrested for misappropriating funds. At first, just a few people read it. Over the next fortnight, people began to comment and repost it. After a month, the novel had become an online phenomenon, discussed in forums nationwide.

“Publishing houses started to contact me and seven months after I’d posted it online, the novel appeared in bookstores. Tens of thousands of legitimate copies were sold as well as many pirated versions. By 2004, it had become so popular that a high-ranking official held a meeting in Chengdu regard-ing how certain books could cast the city in a dark light. That’s a shame as I have always loved Chengdu, even though there are now streams of tall buildings and everyone talks about making money.

From 2003 to 2004, I again lived in Shenzhen, where I researched and wrote my second novel, “Heaven to the Left, Shenzhen to the Right”, a Gatsby-esque tale of a man who made his fortune only to lose himself in the southern boomtown. Then, in 2005, I received an email from a British person living in Hong Kong called Harvey Thomlinson. He told me he wanted to translate my first novel into English.

“A few months later, a television film based on this novel was shot in Chengdu so we met up in the city to check out some locations that featured in the novel. We continued to communicate after the trip and rendezvoused in Shanghai and Sanya, on Hainan Island, where we went swimming together. I thought foreigners were good at swimming but I discovered in Sanya that I was better than Harvey. Since Harvey translated my first novel my work has been translated into 16 languages and published in nearly 20 countries.

Murong Xuecun’s Writing Career and the Internet

Edward Wong wrote in the New York Times, “Mr. Murong’s four novels and one work of investigative journalism are based on years spent in China’s fastest-growing cities. He traveled to Beijing from his family’s farm in Jilin Province to attend the China University of Political Science and Law, which trains judges, lawyers and police officers, the kind of people who figure prominently in his novels. Mr. Murong then moved from Chengdu to Shenzhen to Guangzhou, working at companies in various positions like legal adviser. [Source: Edward Wong, New York Times, November 6, 2011]

He wrote on the side and sent stories to magazines, but received only rejection slips. Then he stumbled across an in-house Internet forum at Softo, the cosmetics company where he worked in Guangzhou. Hundreds of company employees posted on it, but people on the outside could also gain access. Amateurs were posting poems, short stories and serialized novels. “I saw a novel titled “My Beijing,” which inspired me,” Mr. Murong said. “I thought, “I can write that kind of thing as well.”

In 2002, he began his novel of Chengdu. Using a pen name, “The Little Match That Sells Girls” — a twisted reference to Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Match Girl” — he posted his chapters online as he wrote them. The evolving novel gained notoriety and was reposted on forums. It was a bawdy page-turner: the protagonist, Chen Zhong, an employee at an automobile oil and parts company, regularly engages in bribery and adultery. There are sex scenes in bars and brothels. One of his best friends is a corrupt police officer.

But the freewheeling nature of the Internet could surprise even Mr. Murong. After posting Chapter 26, he went on a long business trip. He came back to find that someone else had written Chapter 27. “I had been pirated,” he said with a laugh. Now the book had two lives. Writing on the Internet meant, for the most part, working beyond the curtain of censorship. The print world was different. After Mr. Murong signed a contract to have the Chengdu novel published by Zhou Wen, an entrepreneur, he was forced to cut 10,000 words. But he had an out. After the book was published, he posted an uncensored manuscript on the Internet, one that was even more complete than the chapter-by-chapter version he had written online. “It did feel liberating,” he said.

Some writers are skeptical that uncensored books on the Internet can have much of an effect. Chan Koonchung, the author of “The Fat Years ,” a dystopian novel published in Hong Kong and Taiwan but banned on the mainland, has seen at least two electronic versions of his book posted by fans. But he said he believed that only a small number of mainland Chinese would read it online because it could not be discussed in the news media or any other forum. “Most people don’t know about these books,” Mr. Chan said. ‘so they’re not going to go onto the Internet to look for them.”

Mr. Murong eventually persuaded another house to publish a complete edition of the Chengdu novel. Publication rights generally last three to five years in China, and publishers putting out editions beyond the first one sometimes feel more confident in reinserting passages that were originally censored.”Once a book gets past the censors and gets published, it is legitimate,” Mr. Murong said. “A couple of years later, you can publish the complete version. The logic is this: If the first version was not banned, why would the second one be?

In the early 2010s, Murong wrote a nonfiction work, "The Missing Ingredient," about going underground to uncover a pyramid scheme. This won him the 2010 People’s Literature Prize. He was unexpectedly barred from making an acceptance speech in the mainland. He delivered it instead before the Foreign Correspondents Club in Hong Kong. "In his speech at the Foreign Correspondents Club in Hong Kong, Murong Xuecun said: If I am not mistaken, the People’s Literature magazine ‘special action award” was not bestowed for my literary achievement, but for my courage. This is an unusual honor for me as a writer. It’s a bit like praising a football player for being a good street fighter. I’m embarrassed because I am not a brave person. Genuine bravery for a writer is not about jousting with a pyramid-scam gang. It is about calmly speaking the truth when everyone else is silenced, when the truth cannot be expressed. It is about speaking out with a different voice, risking the wrath of the state and offending everyone, for the sake of the truth, and the writer’s conscience. Actually, I am a coward. I say only what is safe to say, and I criticize only what is permissible to criticize. [Source: Murong Xuecun, International Herald Tribune, February 23, 2011]

Murong Xuecun and Self-Censorship

Edward Wong wrote in the New York Times, “When the novelist showed up at a ceremony in Beijing to collect his first literary prize, he clutched a sheet of paper with some of the most incendiary words he had ever written.It was a meditation on the malaise brought on by censorship. “Chinese writing exhibits symptoms of a mental disorder,” he planned to say. “This is castrated writing. I am a proactive eunuch, I castrate myself even before the surgeon raises his scalpel.” The ceremony’s organizers forbade him to deliver the speech. On stage, Mr. Murong made a zipping motion across his mouth and left without a word. He then did with the speech what he had done with three of his best-selling novels, all of which had gone through a harsh censorship process: He posted the unexpurgated text. [Source: Edward Wong, New York Times, November 6, 2011]

"Mr. Murong began muzzling himself with his second book, “Heaven to the Left, Shenzhen to the Right,” about young people trying to make their fortunes in Shenzhen. “I already knew where the lines were, based on the experience of my first book being edited,” he said. For example, Mr. Murong had originally intended for his protagonists to have experienced the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and crackdown. But he said he did not dare cross this “untouchable red line.” There was another impetus to self-censorship. “I always become good friends with the editors,” he said. “I don’t want to get my friends in trouble. If they say something is risky, or if they might lose their job over it, I’ll let them delete what they want.”

"As with the Chengdu novel, the complete version of the Shenzhen tale exists online. An uncensored version of Mr. Murong’s fourth novel, the one about the legal system, is sold as an e-book.The intact version has, for example, a scene where the protagonist, a corrupt lawyer, is asked to sign away his organs while on death row.”Now that I’m aware of my self-censoring tendencies, I try to make up for it while I write,” Mr. Murong said. “I can write one version and publish a “cleaner” version.”

"But sometimes it can be surprising what slips into the first print editions. Mr. Murong’s third novel, "Some Die of Greed,” a critique of China’s rampant materialism, has a scene in which wealthy men at a restaurant eat a woman’s breast and drink a virgin’s blood.As Mr. Murong’s fame grew, the official Writers Association asked him to join, but he rejected their overtures. Meanwhile, he took his work in a new direction, toward journalism, which undergoes more scrutiny from censors than fiction.

"Mr. Murong’s most painful struggle with censorship came when he worked with an editor from Heping Publishing House on his latest book, “China: In the Absence of a Remedy,” the nonfiction exposé that documents Mr. Murong’s 23 days spent undercover to investigate a pyramid scheme. There were endless negotiations. Even a phrase like “Chinese people” had to be changed to "some people.” Mr. Murong yelled at the editor, smashed a cup on the floor and punched the wall of his home. “It was like someone was whipping me for no reason,” Mr. Murong said. “In 2008, the censorship was painful, and I could endure it. But in 2010, I couldn’t endure it anymore.” Zhang Jingtao, the editor, said he wanted to “make the book more appropriate for our society and our times. “Publishing is a cultural activity, which falls under the realm of ideology,” Mr. Zhang said. “My job is to be the ideological quality control.

The book was published in 2010 to great acclaim, even if it was incomplete. Newspapers ran articles on Mr. Murong’s role in alerting the police to the fraud ring. The book was serialized in People’s Literature, a magazine co-founded by Mao. Its editors decided to award Mr. Murong the magazine’s annual literature prize. Last November, the day before the award ceremony, Mr. Murong spent eight hours preparing his speech. He wrote: The only truth is that we cannot speak the truth. The only acceptable viewpoint is that we cannot express a viewpoint.” It was 4,000 words long. In the end, not a single one was spoken.

Murong Xuecun on Success, Surveillance and Silence

Murong Xuecun wrote in the South China Morning Post: My writing has taken me to literary festivals and univer-sities all over the world. In 2012, I attended the Hay Festival in Wales with Harvey, where I met a hero of mine, Salman Rushdie. I love Graham Greene’s novel Brighton Rock (1938) — he’s a big inspiration — so I went to Brighton to see if it smelled as sinister as I imagined and to find some of the restaurants, cafes and streets included in the book. [Source: translated by Thomas Bird, South China Morning Post, July 18, 2020]

“A few years later, Harvey and I held an “Orwell Day” in London. We visited the BBC to see where George Orwell worked, his “Room 101”. Then we went to Notting Hill to buy a first edition of Nineteen Eighty-Four, and to check out Orwell’s former residence. I love London. Berlin, Paris and New York, too. I think because I was born in a small village, I always yearn for big cities. Beijing is a special city, too. Beyond the political environment it is a rich and exciting place.

Countless disasters and suffering are related to corruption. A writer living in China is obliged to comment on and record this issue. But China has changed since I started writing. The early 2000s were a relatively liberal time, when a lot of freedoms were permit-ted. But censorship has been creeping back.

“In 2011, I gave a speech at the Foreign correspondents Club in Hong Kong, titled “Words we can use, and those we cannot.” An article about it was published on The New York Times’ website. This earned me the opportunity to write for The New York Times from time to time, and, in 2013, I became a columnist for the newspaper. I spent a lot of time in Hong Kong during this period while writing those op-eds. I liked the sense of liberty as well as the delicious Cantonese cuisine, which I love almost as much as Sichuanese cooking.But living in Hong Kong is not easy as a native Mandarin speaker and I always felt like an outsider, so, in 2016, I went back to Beijing. That may sound strange but I have many like-minded friends in the capital, it is where most writers live. In addition, as dissidents, Beijing is safer, as the police in small cities can be really cruel.

2020 was “a critical year for China and the world. The Covid-19 outbreak has spread from Wuhan to every corner of the globe. I visited Wuhan in the aftermath but I am currently more worried about the United States than China. The terrible floods in the south of China have also been a huge disaster. Mean-while, due to new surveillance policies the situation for dissident voices like mine is getting worse and worse with every passing month. What I am most afraid of is that we will return to a situation akin to that of the Cultural Revolution. These are dangerous, chaotic times and friends have urged me to go overseas. But I’m a Chinese writer, I write about this place and I don’t wish to go elsewhere. So, after a few years of absence from the literary scene, I’ve found an isolated spot to write a new book even though I am currently banned from publishing any new material. Although this book will probably be published in English first, I will continue to write, to comment on this age I live in and what I see around me. Many people think I’m a dark person but I’m quite cheerful really — a warm being and an optimist. I just say what needs saying.

In April 2014, 50 Centers — Internet commentators who are hired by the authorities of the People's Republic of China to manipulate public opinion and disseminate disinformation to the benefit of the governing — began a collective attack Murong Xuecun. Tweets were posted via accounts that were mainly set up a few months before, primarily using photos of beautiful young women or sometimes handsome young men. This is similar to the recent situation where people using photos resembling models posted wonderful things about life in Tibet.

Murong Xuecun on Being Interrogated in Beijing

In July 2014, Murong Xuecun wrote in the New York Times: “Chinese writers like me often face difficult choices. What should we do when friends are arrested for no good reason? Keep our mouths closed? Should we speak out in protest and risk being dragged away to prison? Is it fair to our families and friends to risk rotting away in jail because we refuse to shut up? After several months away from China for an academic residency and vacation, I returned to my home in Beijing on July 2 prepared to be arrested. While abroad I had announced in a blog post and in this newspaper that I would turn myself in to the authorities for contributing an essay to a private commemoration of the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown. Several of the participants in the Beijing gathering had been arrested. [Source: Murong Xuecun, New York Times, July 17, 2014]

“On July 6, I posted a message online saying that I was home and ready to be picked up. My girlfriend never said it, but I knew she was uncomfortable with my stance. Two days later, I received a phone call from a police officer at the Wanshou Temple station near where I live asking me to come in to “have a chat.” I walked into the station at about 5:30 p.m. and was ushered straight up to the second floor. I had to wait for officers from the guobao, which is part of China’s secret police force. The guobao is rarely mentioned in news reports, and few people know the details of its budget and structure. It is everywhere, it is all-powerful, and it can make people suffer at any time. For Chinese dissidents, guobao means nightmare. While waiting, I picked up a copy of “Readings Selected From Important Speeches by Xi Jinping,” lying on a desk. One chapter was about building “a China ruled by law.” I might have been encouraged by our president’s words had I been sitting somewhere else.

“After about 40 minutes, two plain-clothed guobao officers showed up and took me into a small room. Shoe prints covered the walls, and cigarette butts were scattered on the floor. In the middle of the room was a desk with a computer and a printer. My chair was in front of the desk. One officer presented his ID and the other gave me a bottle of water. They advised me to “answer truthfully, otherwise there will be legal consequences.” They quickly zeroed in on the commemoration of the 1989 Tiananmen incident. Why did you want to participate in the event? Who contacted you? When? Where had you met? What did he say? What did you say? What did you write in your speech?

“I answered their questions truthfully. I did not see any point in hiding anything. Then we discussed the Tiananmen Square incident itself. I argued that under no circumstances should the government have ordered the army to shoot at unarmed civilians, let alone dispatch tanks to roll onto the streets of Beijing. The officers did not agree or disagree with me; they just kept asking questions: Do you know what the overall situation was? Do you know what was happening in international affairs at the time? Do you know how many soldiers were beaten or burned to death?

“The conversation turned to whether I had broken the law. I told them that I assumed they thought I did because they arrested my friends who were at the Tiananmen commemoration. The officers didn’t like that I made the law sound capricious. The law is not about what they “think,” one of them said. The police, the officer said, had arrested my friends because they broke the law. Next we discussed whether citizens “must obey the law.” I said good laws should be obeyed but evil laws must be challenged. They strongly disagreed, insisting that the law must be obeyed whether it’s good or evil. “And you’re a graduate of the China University of Political Science and Law, eh?” the younger one asked mockingly. I began to talk about Thoreau’s essay on civil disobedience, but quickly felt like a ridiculous pedant. What’s the point of talking about the virtues of civil disobedience in a Beijing police station?

“After their questioning, the two went into an adjoining room to make a phone call, presumably to ask for instructions from their superiors. It took a while. This was the most difficult part of the night: the wait for some mysterious force to make a decision about me. Somewhere in this city someone was about to decide my fate, and I knew nothing about this person. The two officers seemed to be in the dark, too. They made a second phone call. They returned and one asked: “If we arrest you today, will you be able to refrain from hyping it up when you get out?” I told them I could not promise to do that. The officers wanted to go to my home to get the essay I had written for the Tiananmen commemoration. I told them that I volunteered to come in for questioning, but I had no intention of surrendering my rights, and they would need a warrant. They finally agreed to let me go home alone to get the essay for them. But once at home I couldn’t find it: I had written it in an email message and my account was inaccessible because of the Great Firewall.

“I returned to the police station empty handed. The officers let me go after making a statement about the inaccessible email, signing each page and affixing a fingerprint. I was also required to add a statement attesting I had read the transcript of my conversation with the officers and that it was an accurate record. “We appreciate you turning yourself in,” one officer said, “but the law is the law, and while we will not let any miscreants off the hook, we will never treat good people unjustly. Do you understand?” This was the first time I was questioned by the police.” [He was then released.]

“In the course of my seven-hour interrogation the guobao officers were never ferocious. In fact, they were polite. In this respect, the Chinese government has evolved to appear friendly, but in its heart of hearts it is still a dictatorial regime that will never accommodate someone like me who disagrees with it...“I still live in fear. I visited many Chinese prisons for a novel I wrote about the legal world — I know they aren’t pleasant places. Could I cope with a life behind bars? How would I face my devastated family and friends if I were jailed? I still don’t know. But I have a bigger fear: living in a China where good people are jailed, where people are afraid to speak their minds, and where the law has little to do with justice.

Han Han

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Han Han is a top-earning author, champion race car driver, a banned novelist and, according to The Guardian, “arguably the coolest man in the country.” He has accumulated more than 440 million hits on his blog as of December 2010-making it the most popular blog in China, perhaps the world, at that time. Han shot to fame in 2000 after he published “The Triple Gate“, a novel based on his own experience as a school drop-out on Shanghai that mocked China’s rigid education system. He has a dozen titles to his name and was named by Time magazine as one of the world’s 100 most influential people.

Ian Buruma wrote in the New York Times: “Han Han is a remarkable fellow. His first novel, “Triple Door,” was published in 2000, when he was only 17, and sold millions of copies. He has written several more novels since then, mostly about girls and racing cars. And he is a successful professional racecar driver, filmmaker, essayist and blogger, with millions of followers online. Han Han is the Pied Piper of the post-Tiananmen generation. With the shaggy-haired looks of a teenybopper star and the cool sassiness of an intellectual punk rocker, he is an idol and a social media guru who has been compared with Lu Xun, the most famous Chinese satirical writer and essayist of the 20th century. [Source: Ian Buruma, New York Times, September 2, 2016]

Han Han was born in Shanghai in 1982. He dropped out of middle school and turned to writing. He published “The Triple Door", his first novel, in 2000. The book became a bestseller and Han has since published more than 10 novels, many of which were successful. Han writes fiction and essays and runs has a high-profile blog. He earned 3.8 million yuan in 2008 and 1.7 million in 2008, making him one of the best paid writers in China. In 2010, Han released the “The Party“ which quickly became a No.1 bestseller. The same year he launched a magazine by the same name, inviting contributions of essays, poetry and opinion pieces. Han had trouble getting “The Party“ off the ground because of problems with censors. [Source: Global Times]

What Han Han Has To Say

In a review of Han Han’s English-language book: “The Problem with Me,” Ian Buruma wrote in the New York Times: “The success is indisputable. But judged by the essays published in this collection, the comparison with Lu Xun, perhaps the greatest stylist in modern Chinese, is silly. Han Han is not a great writer, nor a profound thinker. His philosophy, if that is what it is, can be summed up in one sentence, written in a blog in 2012: “Life as I know it means doing things you like and taking care of yourself and your family.” No Jean-Paul Sartre, then. But this may not be an entirely bad thing. For what Han Han offers is not original thought, or indeed great prose, but attitude, perfectly attuned to blogs and tweets and other forms of social messaging. And his attitude is often attractive, even refreshing, in a blogosphere that is so full of cant and vitriol. [Source: Ian Buruma, New York Times, September 2, 2016]

“Han Han has interesting things to say about the importance in China of social media. He writes: “The little freedom and flexibility we’ve gained is actually convenience brought to us by technology; without it, I believe we’d still be mired in an era of alternating restrictions and relaxations.” Writings on the internet can be removed, but not instantly. Frequently, by the time an offending blog has been taken out of circulation, thousands will already have seen it. On subjects that often put young Chinese into a senseless rage — Japan, for example — Han Han is downright reasonable. He doesn’t see the point of smashing Japanese products to attack a country for the horrors it inflicted in China more than 50 years ago, or over a petty territorial dispute. Instead, he writes with cutting grace, “I want to devote my first demonstration to a place that has bullied me and violated my rights more frequently.”

“Han Han is also funny and shrewd about corrupt officials and the pleasures of unearned privilege. He describes going for a ride with a friend who has bought police placards and a siren, allowing him to imperiously push other traffic aside: “Yes, we despise privilege when we’re faced with it, but when we’re enjoying ‘fake’ privileges, we’re secretly happy.” This self-deprecating tone is one of Han Han’s best assets. It stops him from being smug, which for a young media superstar barely out of his 20s is no mean feat.

“The subtitle of this collection mentions “making trouble.” In fact, however, Han Han has been very careful to stay out of trouble. He is quite different from the dissidents who grew up during the Cultural Revolution, some of whom endured years of prison and torture for their activism. His writings also lack the earnest abstractions about democracy that were popular among students in Tiananmen Square in 1989. Han Han doesn’t believe that the Chinese are ready to vote for their top leaders. “Perfect democracy,” he says, “will not appear in China.” And he consciously avoids direct criticism of the Communist Party, and “sensitive” topics like Tibet and Taiwanese independence. Part of his attitude is a tendency to switch the subject from politics to ―culture.

“He hates living in a country “where people were taught to be cruel and to go to war with each other during the first decades, and turned selfish and greedy in the decades that followed.” And in the same essay, written in 2012, after a visit to Taiwan, he thanks Hong Kong and Taiwan “for protecting Chinese culture, preserving the positive traits of the Chinese people and keeping many essential things free from disaster.” But this is of course not really a comment about culture at all. The reason Chinese people in Hong Kong and Taiwan were able to protect a culture of civility and relative freedom is political. Chinese officials on the mainland are not greedy and corrupt because they are necessarily immoral or uncultured people, but because a one-―party dictatorship encourages corrup―ting forms of patronage. If any people take care of their families, it is those powerful officials.

“Han Han knows this very well. He hints at it in terms that any Chinese person would understand. Even if a full democracy in China is not within reach, or even desirable, Han Han does think people should have the right to vote for powerful officials, such as city mayors. He writes: “We shouldn’t rely on the Propaganda Department for a stable society but should take a few steps forward.” And: “In a land full of unchecked power, no one is safe, including those in power.” He is quite right, of course. But what is cool and sassy to say in China can be remarkably banal elsewhere. I can see why Han Han is popular with his cohort at home. I am less certain that he has very much to say to those who read him in English.

Book: “The Problem with Me And Other Essays About Making Trouble in China Today” by Han Han, edited and translated by Alice Xin Liu and Joel Martinsen (Simon & Schuster, 2016).

Han Han's Clashes with the Chinese Government

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Han Han
Jonathan Watts wrote in The Guardian: "Despite all of his success he is not immune to the power of the government’s censorship lords. His attempt to launch a new magazine Party, a literary magazine for alternative thinkers, was been shut down after just one issue. In a blogpost, Han said the reasons were unclear and cautioned his followers not to assume that the propaganda department was responsible for the failure to reach a second edition. "Maybe there were too many departments involved and too many people with the power to make a literature magazine into a relic," he wrote. "I don't know what was wrong. I don't know who I've displeased. I'm standing in the light while you are in the dark. If we ever met, I will not hold a grudge, but please could you tell me what happened?" [Source: Jonathan Watts, The Guardian, December 29, 2010]

The original plan was to provide "a good art publication with more free and wild writing, but it seems the idea is too good to be true," Han was said to have written previously. His fame should have guaranteed success, but his criticism of the government and championing of free expression made potential partners nervous, Han reportedly made almost a dozen approaches before finding a business partner, switched the magazine's name several times and had to change the classification of the periodical because it was deemed as operating in a grey zone.

According to the Southern Weekend newspaper, about 70 percent of the original content had to be scrapped to secure approval for the publication of the first edition. Filled with 128 pages of freewheeling content from musicians, film directors and offbeat writers as well as extracts from Han's novel “I Want to Talk to the World“, the first edition was repeatedly delayed on the orders of the authorities. But when it was released, it was immensely popular, selling 1.5m copies.

A second edition proved even harder to print, prompting Han to close the operation and dismiss the staff. "The operation was halted several times and censored by provincial officials," he wrote."Party faced difficulties and was pulped even after it secured all the approval it needed." Han has blended racing success — his most recent rally victory was earlier this month — with a sharp wit and criticism of corruption, injustice and incompetence.

Han Han on Revolution, Democracy, Freedom

In December 2011, Peter Ford wrote in the Christian Science Monitor, Han Han "unleashed a firestorm on the Web with a group of edgy essays on three of the government’s least favorite subjects: “On Democracy,” “On Revolution,” and “On Wanting Freedom.” The outspoken Mr. Han reaches more than a million followers and readers whenever he sounds off, which gives him a degree of leeway that the Chinese censors do not grant to everybody. And his popularity means that all of a sudden the sensitive subjects he broached have moved out of the shadows of intellectual or dissident websites into the glare of the Chinese Web’s most visited portals. Han is all for increased freedom of expression. “I believe I can be a better writer, and I don’t want to wait until I am old,” he says. But he is ambivalent about democracy in China because he doubts whether enough Chinese people have sufficient civic consciousness to make it work properly, and he is against a revolution because “the ultimate winner in a revolution must be a vicious, ruthless person.” {Source: Peter Ford,Christian Science Monitor, December 27, 2011]

Ordinary people’s “quest for democracy and freedom is not as urgent as intellectuals imagine,” he argues, and one-person-one-vote elections “are not our most urgent need” because “the ultimate result would be victory for the Communist Party — the only institution powerful enough to buy off all the voters, he says. Instead, he advocates step-by-step reforms to strengthen the rule of law, education, and culture. That’s an approach that the government claims as its own, and Han’s essays have drawn a fair bit of flak from other liberal commentators. “His stance is too close to that of the authorities,” sniffed dissident artist Ai Weiwei on his blog. “It’s like he has surrendered voluntarily.”

Han writes in a casual, immediate style that appeals to younger readers, but his gadfly commentaries are pretty lightweight and not always intellectually coherent and he often says things on his blog that he is lucky to get away with. (Ai Weiwei spent nearly three months jailed in solitary confinement this summer for criticizing the authorities.) Still, as I read Han’s essay on revolution, something chimed with what I had come across in a very different sort of document that I had been perusing earlier in the morning, the biennial “Comprehensive Social Conditions Survey” just out from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS). That report listed the top 10 issues of current public concern in China, led by food price inflation (59.5 percent of respondents), health care availability and costs (42.1 percent) and the wealth gap (28 percent) ahead of a string of other bread-and-butter worries such as unemployment and housing prices. It was a Chinese version of the famous note pinned to a board in Bill Clinton’s campaign headquarters when he was running against George Bush Sr., “It’s the economy, stupid! — And nowhere on the list was there any mention of restrictions on freedom of expression, or the lack of democracy (although official corruption angers 29.3 percent of the population, according to the survey.)

When asked why this was so, Li Wei, one of the CASS researchers who had carried out the study, told the Christian Science Monitor, “Initially, he said, he and his colleagues had planned to ask about Internet censorship and the lack of freedom of expression. “But when we tested our questions in preparation for the survey, we found that villagers did not know what we were talking about,” he recalled. “They thought they had complete freedom because they don’t talk about politics, so they don’t have any problems.”

“That is not to say that we think freedom of expression is unimportant,” he added quickly. “But it is not important enough to enough people in China to make it part of our survey.” That is hardly the same thing as arguing, as Han appears to believe, that the Chinese people cannot be trusted with democracy until they are better educated and more civic minded. But it must offer the Chinese government a good deal of comfort.

Han Han Mellows Out and Makes Films

Karoline Kan wrote in the New York Times, “Once celebrated as the voice of China’s rebellious youth and the country’s most-read blogger, Han Han, 34, has shifted more of his energies in recent years into his career as a racecar driver, filmmaking and family life. Since 2013, he has rarely updated his blog, preferring short messages on his Weibo account, and often addressing personal issues rather than the scathing social and political criticism that made his early reputation. He writes movie scripts, song lyrics and, in 2014, he directed his first movie, the road trip comedy “The Continent.” He is working on two more films, adapted from his own novels. [Source: Karoline Kan, New York Times, September 20, 2016]

On being called a rebellious troublemaker, Han Han told the New York Times: “I don’t think I am or was rebellious. I don’t disagree for the sake of disagreeing, as the word “rebellious” suggests. I do whatever I think is right, whatever I like and want to do. If others see me differently from the way I see myself, there’s nothing I can do about it. Media always wants to stick a label on people to make it easier for readers to remember.

On why he didn’t post on his blog so often, he said: “Because I’ve already written many of the pieces I needed to write and said many of the things I needed to say. I’m a person who does more than talk. Thanks to the internet, people tend to speak and comment more. There are fewer and fewer people who actually do things. I devote time to professional motor-racing because you can’t achieve anything in this sport just by talking. It’s the same with making movies. I’m trying to realize my childhood dreams one by one.

On the film “Duckweed” (2017), directed by Han Han, Jonathan Landreth wrote in China Film Insider: “As the film starts, rally racer Xu Tailang, or “Lang” (Deng Chao) hurtles his souped-up Subaru through China’s gravel backroads, a visual metaphor for the pace at which megacities have pulled Chinese people from the countryside by the hundreds of millions and the Internet has launched them into semi-synch with the rest of the developed world. But the rally car wrecks, sending Lang back in time to 1998, a pre-cell phone era of snail’s-pace, dial-up modems, and petty criminals who carry beepers as talismans of power. [Source:Jonathan Landreth, China Film Insider, February 12, 2017]

“A natural do-gooder even while acclimating to this disorienting past, twentysomething Lang chases down a purse-snatcher and accidentally meets and befriends his own twentysomething father, Xu Zhengtai, or “Zheng” (Eddie Peng). A source of shame for the grown-up Lang, who really only knows him as a meek man with a checkered past, Zheng is revealed as a swaggering local Robin Hood figure who will, before film’s end, go to jail fighting off a crooked real estate developer just as Lang is born to his mother and snapped back to the future.

“Duckweed presents a coming-of-age tale, in which an adult child is surprised to find compassion taking root for a father he has hated while growing up when he is dropped into that very father’s own misspent youth. Lang tails his dad, passing as an oddly-styled stranger who claims to be a local even though no one’s ever heard of him. Together with his followers, Ma the computer nerd (Dong Zijian) and Liu Yi the loyal, if simple, enforcer (Zack Gao), Zheng runs a gang he claims to model after the legendary 1920s Shanghai mob boss, Big Ears Du Yuesheng.

Highest-Paid Authors in China in 2008

Guo Jingming was in first place for the second year running on the list of China's richest authors. This year, the top ten positions have a combined income of 71.3 million yuan, 9 million more than last year. However, the value of the remaining 15 slots contracted from 43.5 million to 27.9 million. has been released. [Source: Wu Huaiyao, a reporter with China Business Post Danwei.org, December 2, 2008]

The Rankings (with last year's rank, if any: 1) (1) Guo Jingming, books and magazines: 13 million; yuan 2) (4) Zheng Yuanjie, children's fairy tales: 11 million; 3) (7) Yang Hongying, children's lit: 9.8 million; 4) (5) Sharon, books for girls: 8 million; 5) Ma Weidu, Collector and Lecture Room author: 7.45 million; 6) Girlneya, author: 5.5 million; 7) (2) Yu Dan, Lessons from Zhuangzi (Confucius): 5 million; 8) He Ma, breakout author of the Tibet Code series: 4.4 million; 9) Shi Kang , novelist and screenwriter: 3.6 million

10) Cang Yue, fantasy, 3.55 million; 11) Ming Xiaoxi, romance: 3 million; 12) Wang Xiaofang political intrigue: 2.8 million; 13) (10) Yu Qiuyu - essays on culture and history: 2.65 million; 14) Wang Liqun Lecture Room author: 2.5 million; 15) (22) Dangnian Mingyue - popular history about the Ming Dynasty: 2.3 million; 16) (11) Cai Jun - thrillers, the Mysterious Messages series, 19th Level of Hell: 2 million; 17) Mai Jia - literary spy thrillers with sales driven by a popular TV adaptation; Mao Dun Prize winner: 1.8 million; 18) (13) Han Han - fiction and essays; the author has a high-profile blog: 1.7 million; 19) (24) Yang Zhijun Tibetan Mastiff series: 1.6 million

20) (17) Hai Yan - crime fiction and TV adaptations: 1.55 million; 21) Chi Li - literary fiction; this year's Come, Child is a non-fiction work describing how she raised her daughter, who's now attending college in the UK: 1.35 million; 22) (15) Annie Baobei - literary romance: 1.3 million; 23) (3) Yi Zhongtian Lecture Room author: 1.2 million; 24) (14) Bi Shumin mainstream fiction, Female Psychologist: 1.15 million; 25) Li Ximin thriller writer who was trapped for three days in the Wenchuan earthquake: 1 million

For comparison, the newspaper also called on ten literary critics to draw up a separate list of influential authors. There's no overlap whatsoever with authors on the bestseller list: The writers in this list are: 1) Mo Yan; 2) Shi Tiesheng; 3) Yan Lianke; 4) Yu Hua; 5) Bei Dao; 6) Han Shaogong; 7) Jia Pingwa; 8) A Lai; 9) Wang Anyi; 10) Su Tong; 11) Bei Cun; 12) Zhang Chengzhi; 13) Duo Duo; 14) Tie Ning; 15) Ge Fei; 16) Wang Shuo; 17) Chen Zhongshi; 18) Yu Jian; 19) Zhang Wei; 20) Han Dong; 21) Lin Bai; 22) Can Xue; 23) Zhai Yongming; 24) Li Rui; 25) Liu Liangcheng

The list was started in 2006 by Wu Huaiyao, a reporter with China Business Post. Wu interviewed over 100 people working in the publishing industry in a number of major cities throughout the country to determine author incomes and identify general trends during a year. Author income was estimated based on an average author royalty rate of 10 percent multiplied by the number of copies of new books and additional printings of older books between November 2007 and November 2008.

Image Sources: Amazon, University of Washington, Ohio State University

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2021

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