Originally published on Rue89, 7/4/2010.
Invited to attend last march the Paris book fair : the Chinese writer Yan Lianke, who is well known to readers of Rue89. Yan Lianke is 52, he was born into an illiterate peasant family in the western Henan province. A career in the Army allows him to escape a life as a farmer and provided a university education. His books brought him as many literary prizes as problems with censorship: three of his books are banned, which forced him to leave the military career.
Employed by the Writer ‘s Union and, recently, a professor at Renmin University in Beijing, he will quickly obtain an international reputation and we can compare his work to that of Mo Yan, Yu Hua and Wang Anyi.
Literature and filial devotion:
In 2006, he published a collection of short stories and a longer text “Thinking of my father.” It is a selection of these texts that has been released by the editor P. Picquier.
He has been busy for some years with the topic of father and family and in 2009 he published a long novel, “The generation of my father,” where he talks about his village and his family. This book is a great success with readers and reviews, with 300,000 copies sold in China.
During the Book Fair, he was kind enough to answer some questions via the translator of the book, Brigitte Guilbaud, who had translated with talent one of his previous books”The Days, the months,the years”.
Q- You have written some memories. Mo Yan has also published in China “Changes”. Is this a trend?
No, do not forget that this is a traditional genre and themes close to my hart for personal reasons. But perhaps publishers are enthusiastic for the memory of the father, because of the rapid developments around the family in China.
Q- Are the practices of filial devotion changing ?
This is something fundamental in Chinese society, but the importance of which tends to decrease. A more affluent society, a materialistic approach, the one child policy, all this creates a very selfish generation and the links between parents, grandparents and children are not as close.
This is true in cities and in the country side and in my book, I wonder about my own attitude vis-à-vis my father and how I met with varying degrees my responsibility towards my parents, my brother and my two sisters. Perhaps with this book, I tried to settle part of my debt.
It is essential to recover strong family ties, even if it is normal that they change. In the past, the responsibility was that of the son. In the town, more and more girls are playing a vital role and are much more responsive vis-à-vis their parents.
The same goes in the country where the money brought by girls at the same time helped the parents and gave more autonomy to girls much more independent from their parents or their stepmother.
Q-The debate continues in China over the role of literature and the German sinologist, Wolfgang Kubin,with his harsh approach, was recently on television.
It’s an old debate and Kubin has often changed on his evaluation of Chinese literature. My work is something personal and I’m lucky enough not to have to worry about being published or to wonder what are going to be the reactions, including those of the censorship.
Censorship will continue to exist but as I’ve told you in the past, what concerns me is the self-censorship.
I enjoy,from a literary point of view, a creative and successful period. I feel a certain responsibility as an ambassador of my country abroad, but certainly not in the political field.
►Yan Lianke “Thinking of my father”, translated from Chinese by Brigitte Guilbaud. Philippe Picquier, 120 pp, 14.50 euros.