The Telegraph’s Helen Brown ponders the recent boom in Chinese literature, one that has only grown since Jung Chang‘s family memoir WILD SWANS hit and stayed on UK bestseller lists fifteen years ago. Last year, Xiaolu Guo‘s A CONCISE CHINESE-ENGLISH DICTIONARY FOR LOVERS was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction. And Yan Lianke‘s subversive SERVE THE PEOPLE! is poised to become one of this year’s late-summer hits.
Part of that reason is the mock “banned in China” sticker on the cover, but Toby Eady, the literary agent who worked for seven years to get Jung Chang on to our shelves, now a consultant for Picador on Asian fiction, counters: “Very little is banned in China any more. There used to be Yellow Books and Blue Books: yellow for sex, blue for politics. We used to go out and talk to police chiefs about what was banned. But that doesn’t happen in the same way now. Not with the sex books. More with the political ones.” Eady then goes on to describe what happened at the Beijing Book Fair. “Two years ago,” he goes on, “English publishers went to the Beijing book fair for the first time. They bought blind without translators lined up. It was a piece of PR or corporate politics. A few years ago I was asked to speak to most of the major publishers about China and I said they had to respect its culture – publish quality in good translation, not tone-deaf translation. Next year there will be a lot published.”