Megan Walsh on Yan Lianke and Fiction Writing in China
This Week on Underreported with Nicholas Lemann
from Columbia Global Reports
This is Underreported with Nicholas Lemann, from the publishing imprint Columbia Global Reports. We don’t just publish books; we use books to start conversations about topics that weren’t getting the attention they deserved. At least, until we took them on. This podcast is your audio connection to these important topics.
In her book The Subplot: What China Is Reading and Why It Matters, journalist and critic Megan Walsh takes her readers on a journey through the works of Chinese fiction, works that are otherwise difficult for the rest of the world to access. In part three of our three-part series on The Sublot, she joins us to share what she found out, and how she knew there was a bigger story to tell about fiction writing in China.
From the episode:
Nicholas Lemann: Are there ways to write about the distant past such that your audience will know that you’re saying things about the present, but it’s not so obvious?
Megan Walsh: Some of the greatest fiction I’ve read in recent years that’s come out of China has been exactly that. It’s been people like Yan Lianke, and Yu Hua, who write obliquely about the present through the past. But I think they also do it because they are trying to grapple with what happens when that past is rewritten and there is no public access to it.
So, Yan Lianke writes about the Chinese reeducation camps. He writes about towns from the time of 1950s up until right now going through an epic transformation. But each time, they’re done in a sort of heavily metaphorical way—and, to my mind, an incredibly innovative and beautiful way of experiencing what it’s like to live in essentially a non-reality. Some of their work gets published, some of it doesn’t, but they continue to write and work there.
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Megan Walsh is a journalist and writer who specializes in Chinese literature and film, and author of The Subplot: What China Is Reading and Why It Really Matters. She lives in London.