How a novelist’s rural inspiration was transformed by his own success – Dylan Levi King
I was obsessed with Jia Pingwa long before I received the commission to work with Nicky Harman on translating the Chinese author’s late-period novel Qinqiang. I had first come across his most famous early work Ruined City shortly after turning twenty, when a book could still change my life.
Ruined City was published in 1992, but banned the following year for allegedly pornographic content. Even before it was unbanned and republished in 2009 (an English translation by Howard Goldblatt for University of Oklahoma Press finally appeared in 2016), the novel circulated widely in bootleg editions and online. The book tells the story of a horny literatus – Zhuang Zhidie – and his rivals, including Zhou Min, a rusticated upstart who arrives in the city of Xi’an to unseat the literary lion. It was unlike any novel I had ever read: a completely modern work of premillennial Xi’an, full of sexual exploits but borrowing modes and forms from classical epics and Ming vernacular novels. I made my way through Jia’s books that came after, working towards Qinqiang, a rural epic that he published in 2005.