Three Sketches of Peter Hessler

An American writer in China, by Wu Qi – translated by Luisetta Mudie

This piece, exploring the Chinese public’s many visions of Peter Hessler and the China he sees, is the first in a series of four translations of long creative non-fiction essays that first appeared in Chinese in Dandu (单读) Magazine and are translated in collaboration with Read Paper Republic. Subsequent essays from Dandu will run on Fridays over the following weeks. To support further translation such as this after the series ends, give now to our translation drive by donating to our Patreon page.
  1. The Big Meet-and-Greet

Hessler’s here. He has had three books published in China since 2011, and this is his first major meet-and-greet session with his readers here. Some say he’s the voice of the proletariat; the author of a Little Red Book for a new era. Put bluntly, more than just admiring the American author, Chinese people worship Hessler. Carrying English-language editions, traditional- and simplified-character editions – as if bringing different versions of holy scripture – they form a long line, waiting for Hessler to sign them.


Happy and Me

Jia Pingwa on the origin of his novel – translated by Nicky Harman

One afternoon three years ago, I was at home reading Journey to the West and thinking that the monk Xuanzang and his three disciples were really four different sides of the same person, when suddenly there was a loud rapping at the door. These days, when everyone has telephones, it is rare for a visitor to turn up unannounced. I wondered who it was. I was not expecting anyone. I deliberately waited a while before opening the door, to indicate my displeasure at this uninvited guest. Knock, knock, knock, the noise came again, getting louder with each rap. Finally, there was a thud as someone kicked the door. Indignant, I flung the door open.


The Plight of Writing

An undelivered speech by Jia Pingwa

"Facing eternity, or the lack of it, each day."

It is strange to think that these words, spoken by a foreigner so long ago, could describe our current situation so well.

When an author first starts writing, they value craft and skill. Eventually, though, stamina – and things learned from personal experience – are what really matter. Today a writer’s vision is more important than ever.


Chairman Mao Is Dead!

A personal history by Tang Danhong – translated by Anne Henochowicz

When Chairman Mao died, I was looking at caterpillars.

Here's what was going on when it happened: every summer break, my terrifying father went to the Aba Valley to collect botanical specimens and research the cultivation of the native yellow Himalayan fritillary. It was just my mother and me at home. As my parents used to say, when the cat’s away, the mice come out to play. I always liked summer best, but that summer was especially great, because everywhere it was all about the earthquake. Everyone was anxious. An “earth wind” even tore through Chengdu, and we all had to move into earthquake tents. So kids all sat around waiting for the ground to move, not wanting to miss the chance for a good show. Finally the earthquake came to Songpan and Pingwu, and then the earth winds were done, and it was decided that all the children “might as well” be moved back into their houses. They wailed, “That was it? We didn’t even feel anything!”