Q&A

The Golden Age

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.

Q&A

The State of Chinese Sci-fi

In conversation with young author Fei Dao

When did you start writing science fiction?

When I was at middle school, 16 or 17, I started to read a lot of sci-fi. I read the magazine Science Fiction World and became more familiar with sci-fi literature. I liked it because there was a lot of imagination and novelty in it. At that time, my dream was to become an author. When I started out, I didn’t think at all about writing science fiction. Back then I felt sci-fi was very difficult to write, and needed some knowledge of science, so I could only appreciate it but not write it myself.

Diaspora, Q&A

Singapore with a Republican Accent

Rebecca Choong Wilkins interviews Jannis Jizhou Chen about the Sinophonic voice

Jannis Jizhou Chen was born in Chengdu and left China in his teens. Since then he has sojourned in Singapore, Germany and the United States. His publishing debut is a collection of short stories in Chinese, The Stories of Eng Watt Street (永發街事), released in January. Rebecca Choong Wilkins sat down with him as part of her Diaspora column for the China Channel to talk about the controversies of the Sinophonic voice, in all of its varieties.

Can you tell me about your debut work?

It is a collection of 12 short stories taking place in Singapore on Eng Watt Street. I had lived there for six years and got to know many lovely neighbors. I started writing some of the stories while there, and turned many of my dear neighbors into fictional characters. Each story focuses on one household, but when read together, they form certain connections with each other.

Q&A

Thrilling Cities, Hearts of Glass

Susan Blumberg-Kason interviews Ivy Ngeow about her new Macau-noir novel

You write about early 1980s Macau. Not only has there been little set in Macau in terms of fiction, but that period is also special since it’s during the early days of development. How did you research that period?

I found a very old book by Ian Fleming called Thrilling Cities (1963) in Chowrasta Market in Penang, Malaysia, whose strapline was “Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond, takes you on an offbeat tour of the flesh pots of Far Asia and America.” It had fascinating, lurid, sexy black-and-white photographs of “thrilling cities” which included Chicago and Macau in the golden days of the 1950s and 1960s.

Q&A

Taking Risks in Hong Kong

Maura Cunningham tells Jeffrey Wasserstrom about controversy at the Hong Kong Literary Festival

In the first week of November, I crossed the Pacific to take part in several events dealing with the past: university talks about the Boxer Crisis of 1900 and a panel on the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) at the Hong Kong International Literary Festival, held this year in Tai Kwun – a former prison turned heritage site cum arts and shopping district (think Alcatraz meets Covent Garden). I thought these activities would prove interesting, especially the panel, where I was paired with the versatile writer Mishi Saran (a LARB contributor) and the historian Stephen Platt (author of an acclaimed new book on the Opium War). I was not disappointed.

What I did not expect – though perhaps I should have, given recent clampdowns on rights in the territory – was how many interesting discussions relating to a single contemporary issue, censorship, would be taking place while I was in the territory. Before I departed the US, my schedule for the week included attending a November 3 launch party for the first international exhibition of work by a China-born and Australia-based satirical cartoonist I admire, Badiucao. Two members of Pussy Riot, as well as local artist Sampson Wong and local activist Joshua Wong, were scheduled to speak at the party. By the time I reached the Hong Kong airport on the evening of November 2, however, both the party and the exhibit had been called off due to concerns about Badiucao’s safety.