Contemporary Chinese Writers at China Institute

Shenzhen Book City

While Chinese filmmakers and artists often come to New York to talk about their works, writers from China usually don’t have the opportunity to.   This makes Celebrated Voices of Contemporary Chinese Literature, a program that brings five of China’s best-selling and renowned writers to China Institute, a pretty rare treat.  Organized by China Institute and the Beijing Contemporary Art Foundation, the readings, author talks, and discussions take place over three events over two days.

On Saturday, May 7, there are back to back events, the first of which features a reading in English and Chinese by poet Ouyang Jianghe (欧阳江河) followed by a moderated discussion (moderator TBA).   Ouyang is one of the so-called ““five masters from Sichuan” and belongs to the  “third generation” of poets, a label attached to poets from the 1980s who “searched for a new poetic identity based on a collective understanding of the unique and multiple capacities in the Chinese language; their techniques and aesthetic codes were indebted to various new literary theories, including poststructuralism and postmodernism; and their work, while offering diverse individual styles, shared several common features: textual complexity, a focus on everyday life, ordinary language and local colour, and irrationality.”

Following a reception and beginning at 3 PM, China Institute’s Renwen Society hosts a roundtable discussion in Mandarin with nationally recognized authors Liang Hong (梁鸿), Li Juan (李娟), and Yan Ge (颜歌) and moderated by Dr. Yan Yue of the United Nations’ Chinese Language Program.

Liang teaches Chinese literature as part of the creative writing department at Renmin University.  Her most recent work Leaving Liang Village 《出梁庄记》 discussed the unsettled lives of migrant workers.

Xinjiang-born Li Juan is known for writing about her personal experiences and landscape of Kazkah nomads of the Altay region of the autonomous territory.  Eric Abrahamsen of contemporary Chinese literature in translation index Paper Republic wrote in a New York Times op-ed that Li “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.”  Read her story “The Road to the Weeping Spring” 《通往滴水泉的路》.

Yan Ge was born in 1984 in Sichuan Province, China. She recently completed a PhD in comparative literature at Sichuan University and is the chairperson of the China Young Writer Association.  Her early work focused on the wonders, gods and ghosts of Chinese myth which made her especially popular with teenagers.  The novel May Queen (2008) was her breakthrough as a critically acclaimed author.  She now writes realist fiction, strongly Sichuan-based, focusing with warmth, humor and razor-sharp insights on squabbling families and small-town life. People’s Literature magazine recently chose her – in a list reminiscent of The New Yorker‘s ‘20 under 40’ – as one of China’s twenty future literary masters, and in 2012 she was chosen as Best New Writer by the prestigious Chinese Literature Media Prize.  Her latest novel, The Chilli Bean Paste Clan《我们家》, is a “a family drama that manages to be both warm and funny, and barbed and irreverent”.  Though a full  English translation is not yet available, an excerpt “Dad’s Not Dead” was published in Chutzpah magazine.

On Tuesday, May 10, Xudong Zhang, Professor of Chinese and Comparative Literature at NYU and the Director of NYU China House, talks with Yu Hua (余华), author of China in Ten Words 《十个词汇里的中国》, the 2008 Man Asian Literary Prize shortlisted Brothers 《兄弟》, Chronicle of a Blood Merchant 《许三观卖血记》, and To Live 《活着》which was adapted into a film by Zhang Yimou.  In 2002, Yu was the first Chinese writer to receive the James Joyce award.  A year later, Slate examined his realist approach towards the effects of historical trauma:

“While Chronicle of a Blood Merchant and To Live are clearly political novels, there’s something else happening here, too. Neither feels like a capitulation—to official pressure or commercial taste. Rather, they seem like good examples of the kind of heterogeneity that is resulting from the slow relaxation of political restrictions on writers and artists in China. Instead of simply reacting to state-sponsored propaganda, Chinese writers (with notable exceptions) are now free to blend formal or stylistic innovation with a more humanistic approach.”

In addition to his novels, he broadened the audience for his political and social commentary as contributor to The New York Times, but noted in a 2014 interview with ChinaFile the differences in the voices and objectives in the two platforms.  As someone who writes about sensitive topics relevant to history and the present, he also discussed in the interview censorship and the slow process of evaluating writings.

Saturday, May 7
Ouyang Jianghe: Sichuan’s Master Poet (in English and Mandarin):  1:00 – 2:15 PM
Reception: 2:15 – 3:00 PM
Writers Roundtable (in Mandarin): Liang Hong, Li Juan, and Yan Ge: 3:00 – 4:15 PM
$5/Non-member; Free/Member

An Evening with Yu Hua
Tuesday May 10
, 6:30 PM
$15/Non-member; $10/Member

The events take place at China Institute, 100 Washington Street (entrance at 40 Rector Street).

China Institute has offered free tickets to our readers.  If you’re interested in any of the events, send us an email at


Biographies of Liang Hong, Li Juan, and Yan Ge are adapted from their biographies in Paper Republic.

Photo: Shenzhen Book City (深圳书城) Photo by Richard Scoble, licensed through Creative Commons