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Ian Johnson on Yu Hua and Chinese Literaure

Yu Hua at BLF 2012

In the October issue of the New York Review of Books, Ian Johnson (Wild Grass, Chinese Characters) profiles fellow Bookworm Literary Festival participant Yu Hua (Brothers, To Live, China in Ten Words). After spending some time with the author in Yu’s hometown Hangzhou, Johnson muses that “[Yu’s] bawdy books might not be purely fictional; their characters and situations seemed to follow him around in real life too.”

During a “boozy lunch where the head of the local writer’s association ogled the legs of the deputy head of propaganda, while a paunchy singer for the People’s Liberation Army showed off a ‘talented young lady’ he had taken under his wing,” Yu Hua “treated the local notables to jokes, innuendos about corruption, and the failings of the Communist Party” and reduces one official whimpering: “We’re neighbors, we’re neighbors. Ha-ha. He’s joking.”

Johnson notes that “Yu’s career shows how these political and literary issues are linked. While in Hangzhou, Yu and I had a chance to talk about literature and politics, and what struck me most was a comment he made on criticism. What China most lacked, he said, was publications that would help create great literature: the journals, reviews, and magazines where young writers can get a start and receive honest criticism. In China, literary journals are either politicized or open to bidding, with favorable reviews bought by authors or their publishers. This isn’t to say that all criticism in China is corrupted, but much of it is, stifling the honest give-and-take that might encourage the creation of genuinely superior work.”

Read the rest of the piece here.

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