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How did this conception of time emerge? I came up with the idea for China in Ten Words while I was working on another novel. The first four novels I wrote all deal with the Cultural Revolution and all four depict Chinese society before and after. Particularly when I was writing Brothers , I realized that even though the difference between China during the Cultural Revolution and China today is so stark, they have fundamental things in common. Take feverishness.


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Take violence. The substance is different, but the fever and the violence are unchanged. You have been writing about social issues in a very direct way for a long time, beginning in your novels and now also in The New York Times. You seem to have collected hot button issues and systematically put them in your books.

Our lives are formed from a lot of different pieces. There are the things that happen to your family and friends, the things that happen in the place you live, the things you hear about that happen in the news…These things surround you. I used to have a lot I wanted to say, but I was scared to say it. I hoped someone else would speak up and say it for me.

So I told myself that I had to stand up and speak my mind—and I did. Is that because of censorship or for some other reason? How has censorship affected your writing?


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  • It takes time to evaluate a novel. At least one decade. So people today may think they are only reading about contemporary social issues, but future readers may perceive my criticism of the regime more clearly. Still, one thing will never change: whether a novelist is facing history or the present, he should approach it novelistically rather than issuing political manifestos.

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    The release of Brothers was smooth, as was that of The Seventh Day. When The Seventh Day was released some readers worried it would be banned in China, but even more felt comforted that Chinese society was making progress.

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    The same thing happened when Brothers was released. You use a lot of Internet slang, puns, and humor—the language people use to get around censorship. What do you think about this kind of language? How do you evaluate this language? Is it a real form of criticism? Is our ability to speak critically improving or deteriorating? In she came to Beijing and asked me to write an article, and we became friends. She did research on the Internet in the U.

    She says in the U. They skirted around sharp corners to launch their critiques of the government, they became masters of disguise and subterfuge. I wrote an article about this for The International Herald Tribune. China in Ten Words is your first collection of social commentary. Has the shift from fiction to nonfiction been difficult?

    Is it permanent? It came very naturally. I needed nonfiction. Is the twentieth century Chinese writer Lu Xun the writer who has influenced you most deeply? A lot of other great writers have influenced the technical aspects of my writing, but he has influenced me the most deeply. This was a compliment.

    But I know how far short I fall. How do you tell that to Tolstoy? He is half right, half wrong. When it comes to Chinese society today, no question: the news has literature beat.

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    Still, in the long run, people forget the news, but they remember literature. But when people have forgotten about the news, I will fly all the way from Beijing to Moscow, take a two-hour bus to the Tolstoy State Museum, stand alone beside his grass-covered grave and quietly tell him about it all. How do you balance these two identities? For you, where is the line between fiction and reality? Writing novels and writing criticism are two completely different matters. The language of commentary needs to hew closely to reality, but the language of a novel must do the opposite.

    I did that once and it seemed to work.

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    But never the opposite. A novel written in the mode of social criticism would be a disaster. For me, a single principle governs both kinds of writing: the author should value truth above opinion. When Sewell Chan, an editor at The New York Times , invited me to do a column, he said that he did not want a series of political proposals or denunciations—something I agreed with. Add to Calendar. View Map View Map. Find out more about how your privacy is protected. Oct Event description.

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