Monthly Archives: August 2011

An interview on the occasion of Beijing International Book Fair 20111

Beijing International Book Fair starts on 31 August featuring The Netherlands as the Guest of Honour. Eric Abrahamsen, manager of interviewed me about the status quo of Chinese literature on the international market.

                                            Beijing Book Fair 2010   Photo: Reuters


EA Can you first briefly describe your background, and what you do now? How long have you been in the Netherlands, what language do you write in, who is your primary audience, and how much contact do you have with China now?

J O’Y Obviously I was born and raised in China, in the South-western city of Kunming, the place I return to more often in my novels than in physical reality. Whether my birthplace has anything to do with the fact that I’m now working as a writer/visual artist I’m not sure, however, certain memories have seduced me into this unpractical profession. Until today they still haunt me, and prompt me to pick up my pen and brush each time for the sake of remembrance.

On 26 August 1986 I took the daily train around noon to the eastern coast, where I was going to spend the following four years as a college student at the University of Amoy. I recall the exact date and time, because my father gave me a watch when he and my mother came to see me off at the station. The watch had the shape of a cute panda bear; I guess he forgot I was not a little girl anymore, or at any rate I was on the brink to leave them forever in preference of the big, wide world ahead. Which I did. Shortly after the military crash on the Tiananmen Square, I left for Europe to study at the University of London. After that I landed at the University of Leiden via an exchange program to study Japanese language and literature, for which I was granted a scholarship to study in Japan. When I returned, I travelled through Europe for any work I could find…This is the short version of my “date with fate”.

I publish in English, Dutch and Chinese.

EA Could you tell me in general terms how you think Chinese literature is received in the Netherlands? Which books/authors are recognized, if any? Do authors ever appear there for events or tours?

J O’Y I think that the Dutch are curious people, and on the average well-eduacted. They read Chinese literature in order to “learn” something about the country and its people and culture, as this is the tendency of a general public outside China, including — sadly — literary critics. This, let’s say, approach refuses to take a literary work seriously and reduces its author to the level of a documentalist. I mean, do we read Shakespeare because we want to learn about England or Danmark in a certain period of time? Literature is something else, and demands the imagination from the author as much as from the reader. If Chinese literature is not freed from the yoke, it will never get anywhere. Unfortunately, the average attitude is encouraged by publishers who keep feeding the market with the same different.

EA Do you believe that literature is a primary means for Dutch people to understand China?

J O’Y Literature adds to reality; books are humanity in print. And don’t forget: when a writer writes, he INVENTS.

EA Is Dutch interest in China primarily focused on economics and politics, or is there interest in its culture?

J O’Y Without being cynical, business is something the Dutch and the Chinese share in common. However, trade will also bring things other than money, as it has throughout our history. Think of the Silk Road, the oldest trade route linking East and West.

EA Do you think a book fair is a viable or useful means of creating cultural contact between two countries?

J O’Y The intention is there, but I have to say there is too much politcs going on behind a pretty facade, inevitably. For Heaven’s sake, we are dealing with the Chinese authorities, what do you expect!

***An extra note: Dutch authors, whose books are heavily or not heavily censored in Chinese translation happily accepted the “linguistic” prescription because they are made to believe “it’s their culture”, and becaue it is CHINA.


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History wore a human face in City of Life and Death

Directed/screenplay by Lu Chuan | Drama 132 min

© Julie O’Yang

Nanking! Nanking!, or City of Life and Death, is the 3rd feature by Lu Chuan, my absolute No. 1 favourite director of the New Chinese Cinema. Why? Because he is an independent and courageous mind. You never catch Lu flirt with the comfortable Orientalism made famous by veterans such as Zhang Yimou (Raise the Red Lantern), neither does he seek refuge in the quasi modesty with which about every Chinese person on the planet would tell you it is his upbringing. Lu is grand, painfully compelling and emotional without trotting out the old saw, which promises not only a challenging, provocative cinematographic ride: it will undoubtedly lead to controversy in the PRC.

Something old

The Second World War started in Asia. Troubled by a long term economic depression, Japan’s military regime sought a solution and found a problem. The goal and deluding oxygen was to subjugate China in order to propel the country into a false future of expansionism and imperialism. In 1931 the Emperor, Tenno Hiroshito bypassed the parliamentary procedure and gave direct order to the Japanese Imperial Army to invade Manchuria. However, Japan would still wait until July 1937, when the carefully staged Marco Polo Bridge Incident took place near Beiping. The Empire of the Sun officially declared war against China and the rest of the world. In November the Imperial Army took Shanghai. One month later, Nanking, the then Chinese capital was abandoned by Chiang Kai-shek and his goverment. Our story starts from this point in time. The Massacre of Nanking — also known as The Rape of Nanking — the forgotten Holocaust of a globally fought war. If you are expecting some bloody extravaganza a la Saving Private Ryan, I ask you to change your perception filter. The director made an unexpected and clever choice to tell his story in black-and–white, not without a reason. The camera is sober and sedate, exuding the magical calm to transport you to another time and place that is genuine and convincing. Everything is so UNBEARABLY “real”, as if one is watching a documentary.

Something new

Nanking! Nanking! follows the days of life and death of several people, including fictive characters and the historical John Rabe. Rabe aka the “good Nazi of Shanghai” was the person in charge of the Siemens-headquarters in China at that time. The German businessman would eventually save hundreds of Chinese lives by accommodating a safety zone in the midst of the war-torn city. Sounds like Schindler’s list? Wrong again. Above all, when Nanking! Nanking came out,  the German production named after the title hero (John Rabe, 2009) had been released for a while. Lu Chuan opted for a daring perspective to tell a story never told before. Through the eyes of a young Japanese soldier Kadogawa, we are taken to the bloodcurdling, macabre killing field. But then, all of a sudden, the camera cuts to the military camp on the bank of the River Yangtze. Young men, hardly men but boys, singing and dancing and talking about home. “My mom’s o-mochi (rice cake) is so good,” says one in an improvised bath to his friend, who helps him to wash his back. “Yes indeed. Tokyo is so damn nice!” answers his friend. These are the moments that make one shudder. These are man killers. Slaughterers we eyewitnessed at work just a minute ago. Murder, theft, arson, multilation, gang rape, stabbing bayonet and long stick of bamboo into infants and young children… They are like you and me. How long can a human being stand his own coldblooded cruelty? How is one able to carry out such atrocities and live on and talk about weather and 0-mochi? In the end, our protagonist is so sickened and appalled by what he saw that he has no other choice but to kill himself.

Something extra
The Sino-Japanse War along with the Cultural Revolution and Tibet and a few others are on the black list of the Chinese Ministry of Culture and Education. Almost seven decades on the war stays a delicate matter for both countries. Until today the accepeted sentiment agreed upon by most Chinese men of all ages is to take revenge by abusing back! The Rape of Nanking is verboten! The Japanese are monsters, period!
When released in 2009, Nanking! Nanking! turned out to be a hit with the general audience – much to the surprise of the director. Shortly afterwards Lu received death threats via email intended for him as well as his family. For a while Lu was not even sure whether his film could continue to be shown in China when a high party cadre defended Lu’s work, claiming that the film is a good film because it’s a good example of patriotism, which fits well the Party’s educational purpose. Or maybe it was a carefully staged publicity stunt? In either case, Nanking! Nanking! is one of the best war films I haven’t seen since years.


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Nabokov’s wet dream

Attacus atlas, the Atlas butterfly is one of the most astonishing creatures found in the tropical forests of Asia. Named after the Greek Titan, the moths have an average wingspan of around 25 – 30 cm to count them among the largest insect in the world.
When Vladimir Nabokov was finishing Lolita, he was collecting butterflies in the mountains with his wife Vera during the daytime. The author spent his entire life studying species from all around the world. Scalpel & microscope & writing scientific paper and stuff. Vladimir as a credited academician. Follow the link to an article from The New York Times about this curious passion: “I found it and named… and I want no other fame.”

Watch the fragile yet monstrous fairies. You can order the cocoons online.

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When two giants meet, they dance El tango

Originally released on LP in 1965, this album combines Piazzolla’s music with Borges’ poetry. An extraordinary collaboration between music, literature & visual art.


Read more​orges/borges_piazzolla_eltango​.html

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The Art of Noises

A guide to taste the sun in you bowl of fish soup or my curious abc for a colour theory. Read in the Global Artist Circle.



INTERVIEW with the artist:

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Guardian news: Exiled author banned from visiting China

Just received the url from my friend and author Ma Jian, whom I interviewed on the 4th of June this year in memory of the military crash on Tiananmen Square in 1989:

Coincidentally, I was talking about a related subject with a Facebook friend yesterday. The reason Ma Jian is banned from visiting China is that he is writing in Chinese, which is considered more dangerous by the Chinese authorities since the majority of the Chinese — even the highly educated ones — don’t read and speak any language other than Chinese (or/and the dizzying amount of dialects).

** You can (re-)read my interview with the author, which I paste here:

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