In conversation with speculative novelist Chan Koonchung
You came up with the idea for your novel in 2008. Why set it five years later?
In 2008, I realized something significant had happened to China’s perspective of itself and the world’s perception of China. I thought I had a story. I call it “the new normal.” The title of The Fat Years in Chinese is Sheng Shi (盛世), which means the golden years of ascendency and prosperity. This phrase was not used to describe China for at least a century and a half. Now, suddenly everyone is using sheng shi to describe China.
But as I started writing the book in 2009, my intellectual friends in Beijing didn’t agree – they didn’t feel that China was entering an age of ascendency. They emphasised the dark side of China. I wanted to write about what was happening before my eyes, but I didn’t feel my writer friends would agree. So I set it in the not-too-distant future, 2013, so I could come up with fictional events to describe my view of what was happening. In fact, it’s all about the present.