Q&A

Gods of China Past and Present

Kevin McGeary talks to Xueting Christine Ni about Chinese deities

What drew you to the topic of Chinese deities? How are they unique compared to other cultures?

There are very few books in English on the subject that are accessible and at the same time provide sufficient depth. It tends to be either academic research or glib guides that merely skim the surface. Chinese spirituality is one of the best facets through which Western readers can understand China’s society. Its observation and practice have completely integrated with China’s social customs and everyday life, and are also very much linked to broader economic and political developments in history.  Chinese gods have evolved through centuries, from multiple belief systems, some indigenous like Confucian philosophy and Daoism, others foreign, such as Buddhism and even Persian religions. Not to mention the 56 officially-recognized ethnic groups in this vast country, each with their own languages, cultures and beliefs. This process is only really possible in a climate unique to China, and is one of the reasons why Chinese spirituality is so diverse. Whilst there are many unique elements, it’s by no means alien to anyone on the outside, and I do think that letting people in on this subject is a key for better understanding.

Review

The Invisible Valley

Kevin McGeary reviews The Invisible Valley by Su Wei, translated by Austin Woerner

In a 1983 lecture at the National Word Festival in Canberra, fantasy author Alan Garner explained the importance of childhood in making someone a writer1. He recalled his own early years in England during World War II, living life on a mythic plane of absolute good against absolute evil, with survival feeling like a daily struggle. Garner claimed that this seeped into the psyches of his generation and subsequently, its writers’ work, which was profound where the literature of later generations, he argued, was trivial and effete by comparison.

At the Macao Literary Festival in 2018, translator Austin Woerner – whom I first met at a literary translation boot camp in Huangshan in 2014 – explained that his early ambition was to be a novelist, but his comfortable, suburban, American upbringing was not great fodder. Fortunately, for lovers of genre-bending, constantly surprising, and occasionally-hilarious fiction, when studying Chinese at Yale, he met Professor Su Wei.