Dispatches

Jia Pingwa’s Hometown

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.

Dispatches

Flower Town

The rise and fall of a Sichuan village – Sascha Matuszak

I remember when I learned my house was getting torn down. It was June 11, 2008, an exceptionally hot summer day. Flies were buzzing lazily around my head, and the shadows were as sharp as knives. The women of the village, normally a chattering bunch, were conspicuously silent around the corner from my country home, hidden from view by the plum trees. I shuffled over to see what was going on, when a flimsy blue Chery QQ flew around the corner and forced me back.

Dispatches

Singing for Hong Kong

Three protests, three tunes – Alec Ash

In October 2014 I travelled to Hong Kong for a friend’s wedding. I had booked my flight the year before, and went straight to St. John’s Cathedral from the airport. But instead of taking a cab down Connaught Road – Hong Kong Island’s central thoroughfare, usually choked with traffic – I walked down the empty multi-lane expressway it had become. Metal barricades were strewn across the tarmac, some knocked over. Impromptu stalls by the roadside were handing out free bottles of water and biscuits. A scattering of people were sitting cross-legged under the shade of overpasses, many of them on picnic blankets. But for the incongruous setting of an abandoned highway, the scene had the air of a not very successful county fair.

Later, after dusk had fallen and vows had been made, I slipped out of the wedding reception in the Foreign Correspondent’s Club and returned with a couple of friends to the blocked-off stretch of motorway. In the interim, crowds had gathered in the tens of thousands. Now the way was packed, with only elbow room to squeeze past the miles of protestors marching for democracy.

Dispatches

A Tour of Lesbian Hong Kong

Names, places, and the stories behind them – Benita Chick

The alley is dark and a bit creepy, and it doesn’t look like it leads to anywhere. Concealed within it is a secret spot that is largely unknown to both locals and foreigners: T:ME Bar.

Probably my favorite spot in Hong Kong’s Central district, right off Hollywood Road and next to Club 71 in Pak Tsz Lane Park, the bar is a hidden gay sanctuary that makes for a particularly enlightening pit stop. In my experience, four out of five Hong Kongers don’t know it exists, or that it relates closely to Chinese history.

Dispatches

The Hungry Ghosts of June Fourth

Concrete and memory is all that is left on Tiananmen Square Isaac Beech

A hungry ghost, or e’gui 饿鬼, is the lingering spirit of a person who has met a violent or miserable end. In Buddhist tradition, it is the evil deeds of the individual which lead them to be reborn as a hungry ghost, below even the lowest of animals. But in more popular belief, the cruel end of a life cut short is enough to leave a ghost unanchored, unable to rest in peace, forever hungry, never sated.

On the night of June 3, 1989, paramount leader Deng Xiaoping sent some 200,000 troops into Beijing and created anywhere from several hundred to several thousand hungry ghosts. That we don’t know the precise number – likely something less than 3000, despite recent claims of 10,000 or more – is only a testament to the efficacy of the cover-up. If the human tragedy of it all feels too far removed geographically or generationally (I was three in 1989), videos and pictures remind us of what we were not there to witness.