Spotlight on famous writers in modern China

BY LAN QINGFENG

 

China has been trying hard to promote its literary works abroad in recent year, in a bid to project the country’s soft power.

But some well-known domestic Chinese writers, such as Yan Lianke and Su Tong, have been embarrassed to find few audience, when attending forums on Chinese literature at international book fairs in New York or Frankfurt.

It is not to say that foreign readers are not interested in Chinese stories. It still depends on the genres of the works.

Some of China’s domestic bestselling authors have been well received in foreign markets.

As the 2018 Frankfurt Book Fair will convene on Oct 10, we have selected some notable contemporary Chinese authors and their key works, as below:

 

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LIU CIXIN (刘慈欣)

Nicknamed as ‘Big Liu’ by Chinese fans, he has been one of the most prominent Chinese writers on the international sci-fi stage in recent years. In 2015, he won the Hugo Award for his novel Three-Body Problem, the first book of The Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy.

So far the trilogy has sold about 10 million copies in China, and are available in more than 13 languages, including English, Russian, French, Japanese, Korean, and German.

Liu’s earlier novel Ball Lightning was published in English in August.

Liu, 55, used to be a senior computer engineer in a power plant in north China’s Shanxi province. He wrote sci-fi after work secretly, trying not to reveal his identity as a sci-fi fan and writer at a conservative state-owned workplace.

He keeps a habit of running 10,000 meters and swimming for one hour every day to keep fit so that he will be ready for space tour, the biggest dream of his life, when it’s affordable some day.

He believes that governments should get fully prepared for the unpredictable arrival of aliens. However, when he seriously talked about this idea in interviews, he was often ridiculed.

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The Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy

The story started with the cultural revolution (1966-76). Ye Wenjie, a physicist, witnessing his father, wronged by the Red Guards, kill himself by jumping off a building, lost confidence in human civilization, and sent the location of the earth to aliens.

A much more advanced civilization received the message and planned to invade the earth. Different countries on Earth then united together to work out a way to defend.

The time span of the trilogy extends several hundred years. It is amazing to see how boundless Liu’s imagination is. In his novel, the human defense system is extremely weak compared with that of the alien. There might be thousands of ways that human civilization is exterminated, but Liu’s is extraordinarily magnificent.

 

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LOUIS CHA (金庸)

Louis Cha, or Jin Yong, is a household name to Chinese people all over the world for his martial arts fictions.

Arguably the most read contemporary Chinese novels, Cha’s works have been adapted into many movies and TV plays.

Born in east China’s Zhejiang province in 1924, Cha moved to Hong Kong in 1948 to work as a journalist.

In 1955, he started creating martial arts novel pen-named as Jin Yong and published the serials in columns on newspapers. The novels then were published as books, which have been so popular that it is impossible to number the sales because of rampant piracy in the past.

But it is reported that hundreds of millions copies of Cha’s works have been sold around the world, including translation versions in English, Japanese, French and Thai.

As one of the bestselling authors around the world, Cha, however, had not been successfully introduced to English readers until in February 2018, when Maclehose Press published a new English translation of the first volume of The Legends of Condor Heroes, translated by Anna Holmwood.

It was the same publishing house, founded by doyen British publisher Christopher Maclehose, that brought Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy into the English world.

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The heroic epic sets during the years from 1199 and 1227, when the Song Empire is being invaded by its warlike neighbors from the north.

A Taoist priest named Qiu Chuji killed a Chinese traitor. After by his enemy, Qiu came to a small village and met two patriotic friends Guo Xiaotian and Yang Tiexin. The three became good friends, and Qiu named their unborn children Jing and Kang.

One day, Yang’s wife Bao Xiruo rescued a wounded soldier, which brought endless disaster to the two families. The soldier turned out to be a prince of the enemy country and fell in love with Bao.

In order to get Bao, who was already pregnant, the prince killed Guo and Yang got lost. Guo’s wife escaped to Inner Mongolia and gave birth to a boy named Guo Jing. Bao was tricked into marriage with the prince, and gave birth to a son named Yang Kang.

The two boys gradually grew up in two totally different environment with two opposite personalities. Guo, growing up in the grassland, was diligent, humble, loyal, but not very wise. Yang, on the contrary, was privileged, cunning and well trained in martial arts.

With many thrilling adventures with more martial arts masters, good or bad, the two people finally confront each other.

The plot develops driven by each character’s personalities, to the contingent and the necessary, making the novel an exceptional work among martial arts novels that usually relies more on plotting than characterization.

 

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MAI JIA (麦家)

In recent years, another popular contemporary Chinese writer across the world has been espionage novelist Mai Jia, the counterpart of Dan Brown or John Le Carre in China.

Mai’s popular novel Decoded, has been translated into more than 30 languages, including English, German, French, Danish, Hebrew and so on. In 2014, the Economist listed Decoded, a Penguin Classic, as top ten fiction of that year.

In the Dark, his other bestselling novel after Decoded, won the Mao Dun Literary Prize in China in 2008, and was adapted into a popular TV play. Its English version was published in 2016.

Both protagonists in the two novels are prodigies serving in national secret organs.

In Decoded, hero Rong Jinzhen, an autistic math prodigy, is to crack two highly sophisticated codes — Purple and Black.

In In the Dark, seven narrators told the stories about espionage in the three parts of the novel. All of them are geniuses.

In the process of seeking the truth, both of the protagonists in the two novels were wresting alone with the fearful unknown when they were trying to solve riddles and puzzles. In the end, they went mad or died.

A fan of Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, Mai tries in his prodigy novels to explore the inner conflicts of a human being and his fate.

 

The writer is a book critic based in Beijing

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