Tag Archives: literature

Neighborhood Stories

For my interview with Wang Zhanhei, one of China’s youngest writers, I arranged to meet her in Dinghaiqiao, a neighborhood on the outskirts of town.

From the subway, I had to pick my way through an open-air market, where stalls with an assortment of vegetables, baskets of fruits, and buckets of freshly caught carp—some still flopping about—lined the road. Two blocks later, I turned down an alleyway barely wide enough for a person, walked a few hundred more meters, and finally arrived at the place where we’d agreed to meet: Dinghaiqiao Mutual Aid Society, a volunteer-run organization that offers assistance to migrants and manual laborers. It’s a place that Wang often visits.

When I arrived, she was already inside, engaged in a lively conversation with some of her friends.




1 / Unsung Heroes

Displayed on a shelf directly inside the entrance are Wang’s two recent books, Jiedao Jianghu (“Neighborhood Adventurers”) and Kong Xiang Pao (“Air Cannon”), the latter of which just won the inaugural Blancpain-Imaginist Literature Prize. The cover jacket contains a short bio:

Born in 1991 in Jiaxing, Zhejiang Province, Wang Zhanhei graduated from Fudan University with a degree in literature. Her stories Neighborhood Heroes, which originally appeared on Douban, have been published in ONE, FurongShanhua, and the Sinan Literary Journal.

Succinct and straightforward, this statement of fact is the book’s only introduction to the author.

As it happens, since she graduated from Fudan University, Wang has been working as a high school instructor, teaching seniors in an international program. She only sees herself as a writer when she’s actually writing—the rest of the time she calls herself a working stiff. When we arranged to meet, she texted me that she happened to have the day off, but she followed this information with a frowning emoji: “Next week I have to work six days straight.”



“王占黑,1991 年生于浙江嘉兴,毕业于复旦大学中文系。曾在豆瓣写了一系列‘街道英雄’的故事,已有作品散见于《ONE一个》《芙蓉》《山花》《思南文学选刊》等。”



The interview officially began as we strolled among the clusters of low-rise apartment buildings in the neighborhood and chatted.

The neighborhood consists of typical working-class housing, and was reminiscent of the place Wang herself grew up in. Familiar sights and sounds filled the streets: neighbors cheerily greeting one another, older folks and young kids dawdling along the streets, and identical square laundry racks sticking out from every window.

“I still live in an old building like this,” she said. She spoke calmly, though her eyes constantly looked this way and that, fascinated by everything around her. She’d point out cats busily cleaning themselves, tame rabbits hopping about, overgrown loofah vines climbing the walls, and balconies decorated with potted plants.




In her Neighborhood Heroes series, the “neighborhoods” are the apartment blocks and residential complexes built as worker housing in the late 20th century—a common sight in Chinese cities—while the “heroes” are the ordinary residents: security guards, fruit vendors, trash collectors. These humble characters take center stage as the stars of her stories.

Wang has a knack for striking up conversations with strangers. As we walked and took pictures, curious neighbors would approach us, and she readily made small talk.

“Is this your dog? What a good boy!”

“Yep! He’s an old dog, over ten years old. He was even on T.V. back in the day.”

“That old? How long have you lived here?”

The conversation was animated, with the old man speaking in Shanghainese and Wang answering in her Jiaxing dialect. As the sky darkened above us, her eyes seemed to gleam even more brightly.







Wang gives her characters intriguing names: Xiao Guan (Little Official), Lao Jin (Old Gold), Chun Guang (Spring Light), and so on. Many of these are cobbled together from names she heard called out in waiting rooms in banks or hospitals, or which she happened across in short news items. With some rearranging and a lot of revision, she created a series of old “neighborhood heroes.”

“In the beginning, both books were called ‘Neighborhood Heroes,’ but the titles were overhauled in the editorial process,” she recalls. “I suppose everyone’s definition of a hero is different. For some people, heroes are mighty individuals, such as a military general. But my interpretation is different.”



Wang began writing the first piece in her series just after high school, inspired by Xiao Guan, a security guard who looked like he’d been around the block a few times and would make a good story. But once she got to university, she stopped, and when she eventually looked back, the stories and their characters had aged: she discovered that heroes can grow old. They’re just ordinary people.

Not long ago, speaking on Yixi—a platform akin to TED talks—Wang said: “There are a lot of lovable people in that world, and a lot who are lovable and despicable at the same time. But I like to see them as larger than life. Others might say they’re just the common folk, but I like to see them as heroes. Others might say they’re a lost cause, but I want to sing their glories.”

When she published the collection in two books, she changed the title from “Neighborhood Heroes,” but her name for the people hasn’t changed. She still calls them heroes.




2 / A Little Kid in Momentous Era

Ah Ming is one of Wang Zhanhei’s many neighborhood heroes.

One day around noon, when the trash collectors got to the last building, they picked an old woman out of the trash. She’d fallen head-first into the bin and was now fast asleep. When they pulled her out, her whole body gave off a sour stench, and her hair was soaked in a soupy liquid. Wrapped around her breast was a misshapen rubber apron. They turned her over to look and saw—good lord, it’s little old Ah Ming! The one who lives in the garage at the western end of the neighborhood.
(Click here to read more from this excerpt)

In fact, stories like this aren’t so unusual in the Yangtze region, not even in Shanghai. After a layoff or some other misfortune, some people turn to scavenging to get by. A lot of what they take can’t be sold, and they end up hoarding piles of trash. Their stories make the news all too often. But these people, who often face looks of contempt from strangers on the street, are too quickly forgotten about.

But Wang writes about them.

In the story, Ah Ming is fished out of the trash bin and sent to the hospital, but before long she goes back to her trash-picking life. Wang doesn’t give her a tragic ending, yet the story gives you pause.







There’s also Chun Guang, who works as a carpenter, Zhao Guangming, who delivers milk, Mei Fen, a middle-aged woman who waits anxiously for her daughter to find a husband. Wang writes their everyday household struggles.

Over time, her cast of characters grew and grew, and eventually became a series. Wang also came to understand her own style. “After figuring out what my quirks were, I got a clearer sense of what I wanted to write, what I could write, and what I could try to write. Some people love to banter and are always shooting the breeze. Some people are always thinking about the past, and are a bit solemn. I want to include a lot of different kinds of people, and use different styles.”

Wang doesn’t purposefully romanticize her characters, nor does she intend for readers to leave with some profound takeaway. She describes these older residents in old neighborhoods in a four-word phrase:

Laid-off factory workers have an expression, nan bao nü chao: “secure men, super women.” It means the men work as security guards, the women work in a supermarket. For every ten families where factory workers were laid off, seven or eight are like that. Mei Fen and her husband were no exception.
(Click here to read more from this excerpt)

Secure men, super women. These are trivial things—nothing thrilling or out of the ordinary. But isn’t there a heroism in these stories?






On our way to the market, Wang stepped into a little shop selling eggs.

She doesn’t have to ask how much fresh chicken eggs and salted duck eggs cost per pound. After her father passed away, she had to take charge of the cooking. “My mom can’t cook, so I learned from my dad,” she says. From a young age, Wang followed her father around the neighborhood, and a lot of what she knows, like how to talk to strangers and how to haggle over prices, she learned directly from him.

Wang’s fiction is based on the stories of city dwellers set against the backdrop of fast-moving times. She doesn’t look down on her characters from on high, but sees herself as “a little kid from an old neighborhood.” She looks up to everyone in older generations, and her veneration of these heroes comes partly from her respect for her elders. and partly from her inborn empathy.

Before we get to the market, Wang says she doesn’t want to take photos there. “There are a lot of ways to connect with familiar spaces,” she says. “But this sort of ‘photo shoot,’ I don’t know, it feels wrong.”


鸡蛋多少钱一斤,咸鸭蛋多少钱一斤,王占黑知道。爸爸去世后,她是那个掌厨的人。“我妈妈不会做饭。这都是我爸爸教我的。” 占黑从小跟着爸爸在街道里窜,怎么跟陌生人搭话,怎么讨价还价,她得到了真传。

王占黑的小说,就取材于这大时代背景下的小市民故事。她不会把自己放在很高的位置去看,反而把自己当成 “一个老小区的小朋友”,所以觉得每个长辈都高高大大。伟岸的英雄形象,一是来自于对年长者的尊敬,二则来自于下笔时不自觉的悲悯。


3 / A Pen in My Father’s Hand

Her new book Jiedao Jianghu is dedicated to “Jia Tao the king.” Jia Tao was her father, who didn’t actually read her stories. “He’d just pick one up, look at the title, and say something like, ‘Oh, you’re writing about Ah Ming! Looks great!'” she reminisces.”My mom’s the one who often reads my books and proudly shows my work to other people.”

Wang is an animal lover. When we ran into a dog that came up to her barking, she just held a finger up to her lips to tell it, “Shh! Stop barking. You’re going to get yelled at.” Her dad also loved animals. The two of them used to talk about what they’d name their dog if they had one, but sadly Wang’s mom wouldn’t let them get one. “I still want a dog, but my boyfriend doesn’t,” she sighs.





What her father passed on to her is small but substantial. “My dad liked how I’d meet different people and ‘forge my own path.’ He didn’t teach me anything groundbreaking, but he had his own personal life philosophy. Most of all, he gave me a pair of eyes to observe the world around me. In some ways, I’m just a pen in his hand, recording the world we both lived in.”

爸爸给她带去的财富,很细小,却很有分量。 “我爸喜欢我结交不同的人,‘出去闯’。他倒没有教我很了不起的事,他有自己的一套哲学在。但他给了我一双眼睛,去看身边的世界。”王占黑一直这么说,“我可能就是老王手下的一支笔吧,去写下我和他共同生活的世界。”

When praising a writer’s work, critics sometimes say that it epitomizes an age, or that it raises a style to new heights. Yet Wang isn’t that sort of writer, nor does she aspire to be. She discovers people who have been washed ashore by the waves of time—wary grains of sand, swept away, stranded, and heaped together to form a beach where Wang Zhanhei, like a curious child, kneels down with her magnifying glass and calls out to her dad to come take a look.

No matter how many neighborhoods there are, or how many stories, for Wang, the real hero is her father.

Not long ago, I clicked on her Douban page in search of a bibliography of her works. Looking at the comments section, I noticed next to her name a few extra words: “Jia Tao the king.”

Both of Wang Zhanhei’s books, Jiedao Jianghu (“Neighborhood Adventurers”) and Air Cannon are now available (in Chinese) on the Neocha Shop.




王占黑的两本著作《街道江湖》和《空响炮》都在 Neocha 商店中有售。

Douban: ~/WangZhanhei


Contributor: Chen Yuan
Photographer: Chan Qu



供稿人: Chen Yuan
Chan Qu

The Shanghai Literary Review

“When I first came to Shanghai two years ago, I didn’t find a very visible English-language literary community,” says Juli Min, the editor of the Shanghai Literary Review, “so I wanted to create that space.” Twice a year, her journal publishes poetry, fiction, essays, book reviews, and translations, along with an assortment of visual art. Its pieces run the gamut from an essay by Zou Jingzhi, the playwright and screenwriter known for The Grandmaster, to an interview with Eleanor Goodman, the acclaimed translator of Chinese poetry, to paintings by artists who are still at university. It’s become a beacon for creators from around the world, a community both within each printed volume and in the Shanghai bars and cafés where it holds events. This spring has been a flurry of activity: issue no. 3 will come out in June, while a special volume about Chinese cities, titled Concrete, hits the press at the end of May.

“两年前我第一次来到上海,我找不到任何英语的文学团体,所以我就想自己创立一个。”《上海文艺评论》编辑 Juli Min 说道。这本杂志每年出版两期,内容包括诗歌、小说、散文、书评、译文,以及各种视觉艺术。杂志的内容题材广泛,既有《一代宗师》的编剧邹静之的散文作品,也有著名中文诗词译者顾爱玲(Eleanor Goodman)的访谈,甚至能看到还在念大学的年轻艺术家的画作。现在,《上海文艺评论》已经成为全球创意工作者的一盏明灯,它不将自己局限于纸本杂志上,还在上海各处的酒吧和咖啡馆举办活动。今年春季,对杂志来说格外忙碌:第三期杂志将于6月份发行;以中国城市为主题的特刊《Concrete》(《混凝土》),也将于5月底发行。

Of course, you can’t create a community by yourself, and Min has had some help. In late 2016 she founded the Shanghai Literary Review with fellow writers Kenny Ong, Ryan Thorpe, and Mike Fu, and over the last year and a half the journal’s masthead has grown to four more editors—Alex Gobin, Brian Haman, Colum Murphy, Nina Powles, and Fuping Shao—and a rotating cohort of assistants and interns. Together they organize poetry readings, open mics, book clubs, author talks, and an array of events that draw both expats and locals. They regularly collaborate with kindred organizations like Literary Shanghai (a separate group with a similar name) or the storytelling collective Unravel. In April they teamed up with Spittoon, a literary magazine from Beijing, to organize a music and poetry soirée called “Spit-tunes.”

当然,单靠一个人的力量要打造这样一个群体是不可能的, Min 也是如此。2016年末,她与作家好友 Kenny Ong、Ryan Thorpe 以及 Mike Fu 一起创办《上海文艺评论》,经历一年半的时间,杂志目前又多了五名编辑 Alex Gobin、Brian Haman、Colum Murphy、Nina Powles、以及 Fuping Shao,以及一个助理和实习生团队。他们在一起组织诗歌阅读、开放麦 (open mics) 、读书俱乐部、作者会谈,以及吸引到众多外籍和当地文学爱好者的活动。他们也经常与类似组织合作,譬如文艺上海(名称相似的文学组织)、或是 Unravel(每月会定期举办故事分享会的团体)。四月份,他们与来自北京的文学杂志《Spittoon》合作,组织了一个叫做 “Spit-tunes” 的音乐诗歌活动。

Despite the name, the journal isn’t just about Shanghai: its stories and art look far beyond the city, its contributors come from around the world, and its editors are scattered across China, the US, and the UK. Nor does the journal aspire to speak for the city or its readers. “We’ve never fooled ourselves into thinking that we were the voice of Shanghai or representative of China’s literary scene,” clarifies Min. “Our magazine is an English-language magazine, for an English-reading audience. We also don’t think of ourselves as representing expat writers per se, in that we don’t privilege expat voices or stories when selecting works.” Instead, the title is an attempt to create a cosmopolitan space for artists from around the world, particularly those based in Asia.

The Shanghai they claim is both a real city, with its daily rhythms and its grit and glamour, and an imagined space of dislocation and convergence, where people may spend years living side-by-side and never meet. In its small way, the Shanghai Literary Review provides a space for global lives and stories to be shared.

虽然名为《上海文艺评论》,但杂志本身的地域性绝对超越这座城市。编辑遍布中国、美国和英国各地,其中收录的故事和艺术、和作者群也来自世界各地。况且,为上海及所在的读者发言,也并非杂志本身的意图。“我们从未认为自己是在替上海发声,或是代表中国文学界。” Min 说,“我们是一本英文杂志,目标是英文读者。但同样地,我们也不认为自己代表外国作家,因为我们在选择作品的时候不会特别偏向外国作家的作品。” 相反的,之所以取这个杂志名,只是试图为来自世界各地的艺术家,特别是那些位于亚洲的艺术家创造一个世界性的空间。

他们所说的 “上海” 既是指现实中的这座城市,一座快节奏、充满毅力和魅力的城市;也是一个人来人往的想象空间,人们共同生活在这里却从未打过照面,彼此不断错过、相遇、再错过。《上海文艺评论》提供了一个平台,为的是把人们聚集起来,分享这些来自世界各地的生活与故事。

Min and her colleagues have now shepherded two issues to print, and two more are on the way. As soon as she started the first one, she was hooked. “I just love the whole process—reading, editing, layout, proofing,” she says. “It’s a lot of work, but I love seeing text and art come together into something physical, collectible, something you can give to a loved one, something that brings joy. After we did issue one, I couldn’t get enough. I wanted to do more—I had an insatiable appetite to produce.”

Min 和团队已经发表了两期杂志,接下来还有两期正在筹备当中。从她开始制作第一期杂志开始,她就完全着迷了。她说:“我真的很享受整个过程——阅读、编辑、排版、校对。工作量很大,但我喜欢看到文字和艺术结合在一起,变成实实在在、可以收藏起来的东西,一些你可以用来送给所爱的人,以及带来快乐的物品。发行第一期的杂志之后,我总觉得还不够。我想做更多。关于创作,我会有点 ‘贪得无厌’。”

That appetite led Min and her colleagues to put together a special volume between issues two and three. Concrete, which comes out at the end of May, centers on China’s cities. “I worked on the book together with Alex, our Visual Editor. We settled on the idea of lyric essays paired with photography,” she recalls. “Memoir and photography both capture reality as well as distort it, and we thought that these two forms would work well in conversation.” The result is a distinctly literary and artistic view on China’s breakneck urbanization.

这种 “贪得无厌”,让 Min 和团队决定在杂志的第二期和第三期之间推出一个特刊——那就是将在五月底发行、以中国城市为主题的《Concrete》。“我和视觉编辑 Alex 一起商量如何制作这期特刊。我们最后决定采用抒情散文搭配摄影作品的作法。” 她回忆道,“回忆录和摄影,既能捕捉现实也能扭曲事实,所以我们觉得这两种形式的对话会挺不错的。” 最终的成果就是这本以文学与艺术角度,去讲述中国快速城市化进程的杂志。

Even with the narrow theme, the texts take a range of approaches. “The pieces are incredibly diverse in style, subject, voice, and I’m really proud to have them all,” says Min. “One of my favorites is ‘The Bureaucrats’ Daughters,’ by Lynn Zhao. She writes about her and her friends’ childhoods growing up on Beijing’s Wanshou Road as daughters of high-level Party officials. Though Zhao is a young writer, there’s a great sense of nostalgia that pervades her writing.” That young writers can find a welcome in the journal speaks to its inclusiveness—and its cosmopolitanism.

即使只讲述单一个主题,但杂志内的文字仍然展现出极其丰富的创作方式。Min 说:“这些作品在风格、主题、语调方面非常多样化,我真的很自豪能将它们全部呈现出来。我最喜欢的作品之一是 Lynn Zhao 的《The Bureaucrats’ Daughters》(《官场的女儿》)。作者讲述了自己作为高官党员的女儿和其他同样身份的朋友,发生在北京万寿路的童年故事。虽然 Zhao 还很年轻,但她写作的字里行间弥漫着浓厚的怀旧情绪。” 一本杂志能够欢迎如此年轻的作家,恰恰印证了它的包容性及其世界主义。

The Shanghai Literary Review is cosmopolitan in the best sense of the word: it brings together voices from around the world, both established and novice, and its events are open to all. And with activities spanning at least three continents, it’s hard to keep up with. Concrete will launch in Shanghai on May 31, at an event the journal is putting on with local storytelling group Unravel, while issue 3 comes out in June. The summer and fall will see more events in Shanghai, New York, and London. “What we wanted to do was build a literary community and stay connected to the global literary world,” says Min. By any measure, they’ve succeeded.

《上海文艺评论》很好地诠释了 “世界性” 一词: 它汇集了来自世界各地的声音,其中有些是早有建树的艺术家,有些是刚刚崭露头角的新人。它所举办的活动向所有人开放,足迹遍布三大洲,范围之广很难让人跟上他们的脚步。《Concrete》将于5月31日在上海发行,在杂志与上海故事分享组织 Unravel 合作举办的活动中推出。第三期《上海文艺评论》也将于6月发行。夏秋之际,杂志还将在上海、纽约和伦敦举办更多活动。“我们想要做的是建立一个文学团体,一个与全球文学世界保持联系的社团。” Min 说。无论如何,他们都成功了。

Concrete is now available for pre-purchase on the Neocha Shop.

To pay via PayPal or international credit card, please check out through our Shopify. To pay with AliPay or WeChat, please visit our Weidian. Orders will ship after May 31st, 2018.

《Concrete》现已于 Neocha商店 发行预售版。

如需使用 PayPal 或国际信用卡支付,请转至我们的 Shopify 页面;如需使用支付宝或微信支付,请至我们的微店。将于2018年5月31日后发货。


  • Year of Publication: 2018
  • Pages: 164
  • Size: 17cm x 24cm


  • 出版年份:2018
  • 页数:164
  • 尺寸: 17 x 24 厘米

《上海文艺评论》特刊 “Concrete”



EventLost in Translation: A Storytelling Collaboration with Unravel and the Shanghai Literary Review
Date: Thursday, May 31, 2018
Time: 6:30 PM
Ticket: Advance tickets are available for purchase here.

The Parlour
Block 24, 1F-103
1262 West Yan’an Road (near Panyu Road)
Changning District, Shanghai
People’s Republic of China

活动: Lost in Translation: A Storytelling Collaboration with Unravel and the Shanghai Literary Review
日期: 2018年5月31日(星期四)
时间: 下午六点半
门票: 请点击此处提前购票

The Parlour

Website: shanghailiterary.com


Contributor: Allen Young
Photographer: David Yen

网站: shanghailiterary.com
脸书: ~/shanghailiterary


Contributor: Allen Young
Photographer: David Yen

Unpopularity Contest

“Your biggest problem,” shouts a sadistic instructor at a confused group of writers, “is that you’re too mass-market!” The first story in Da Tou Ma’s How to Write a Worstseller tells of an unusual workshop whose participants learn how to curb their sales appeal. The author seems to be poking fun at literary snobbery, even as she cleverly uses this satire to claim her place as a serious writer.

Da Tou Ma is quickly making a name for herself on China’s literary scene. Her three books – How to Write a Worstseller (2017), Skinner (2017), and Murdering the Television (2015) – have earned her praise from established figures such as Jin Yucheng and Luo Yijun, and English translations of her stories have recently appeared in the Beijing literary magazine Spittoon. Her writing is lively, original, and smart, effortlessly combining literary aims with the readability of – yes – a bestseller.

“你们最大的问题啊,是太畅销!” 一位施虐狂般的导师吼道,底下坐的是一群困惑的作家。这是大头马的作品《不畅销小说写作指南》中的第一个故事,讲述一群作家在一场写作培训班上学习如何让自己的作品不被畅销。作者看似是在嘲刺当今文学的势利性,却又巧妙地利用这种讽刺,来宣称她自己是一位严肃的作家。


Her unusual pseudonym, which literally means “Big Head Ma,” began as a childhood nickname. “When I was little my forehead was big – not that it’s small now – so my friends and relatives, and the kids at school, used to call me ‘Big Head,’” she explains. “And since my Mom’s last name is Ma, her coworkers at the office, where I’d spend most of my free time after school, would call me ‘Little Ma.’” That’s why, in the early days of the internet, when she had to pick a screen name, “Da Tou Ma” was a natural choice—and it stuck. As a child, she used it for her first articles and posts, and before long it became a part of her identity, online as well as off. “Gradually the name became my name in real life. Everyone, even my parents, calls me Da Tou Ma,” she says.

“大头马”这个有意思的笔名源自她童年时的绰号。“我小时候脑门大 (现在也不小),是身体上鲜明的特点。所以亲朋好友和同学都喜欢喊我‘大头’。” 她继续解释,“又由于我母亲姓马,小时候放学后经常到我母亲工作的地方打发时间,她的同事都喊我‘小马’。”因此,当刚开始在网上要投稿和发帖时,她很自然就想到了‘大头马’这个名字。慢慢地,这个名字也成为了她现实中的身份。“大头马逐渐成为我现实中的名字。包括我父母现在都这么叫我。”

Da Tou Ma finds inspiration both in her everyday life and in her expansive reading habits. Recently she’s been especially drawn to nonfiction in science, economics, and politics, while also making her way through classic Chinese authors like Lao She, Shen Congwen, and Lu Xun. “I try to imitate the styles, structures, and tricks of the experience of what I’m reading,” she says. “There are all different kinds of sources of inspiration.”

Her ability to use different styles, structures, and tricks is nowhere more evident than in How to Write a Worstseller. In each of the book’s eight stories, supposedly written by a one of the participants in the workshop, she inhabits a different persona, from a playboy who goes to weddings to pick up women, to the enigmatic author of a guide to apologies, to a chemistry student whose trip to Amsterdam takes a harrowing turn. Switching back and forth lets her try out different tones and voices, and gives the book a dazzling virtuosity.

大头马的创作灵感主要来自她个人丰富的生活和阅读经验。最近,她对科学、经济和政治这些非小说类的书尤其感兴趣。也会从老舍、沈从文和鲁迅等中国古典作家中获取灵感。“我会尝试去模仿我阅读到的文学风格、结构、技巧。” 她说,“多种多样的阅读经验都会成为我的灵感来源。”


Unlike the workshop leader in her story, Da Tou Ma says she likes both “serious” literature and popular genres, like sci-fi, fantasy, and manga. “I think the best works in these genres are every bit as good as the best works of serious literature,” she says. As for her own books, she doesn’t worry about whether readers will think what she’s writing is high art or just entertainment. “Sometimes I think about the reader when writing, sometimes I don’t,” she adds. “I concentrate more on finishing the work itself.”


She confesses to being a little out of step with other Chinese writers. But she notes a split between those who work inside the system—with the writers associations and state-sponsored publications—and those on the outside. “Writers who rely on the system tend to produce a traditional, mainstream sort of writing, and the homogeneity is pretty severe,” she says. “Writers outside the system have a bit more freedom, and try to use richer and more varied forms and styles.” Though she doesn’t say, it’s not hard to guess which group she belongs to.

Da Tou Ma does think things are changing, though, and that more writers from outside are getting mainstream recognition. “I think this generation’s writing is definitely more diverse, more free, and more flexible than in the past.”

她承认自己对其他中国作家不太熟悉。但她注意到当今作家大体上可分为两种。第一种是体制内的写作者,依托作家协会或官方的赞助来出版作品。另一种则是存在在‘体制外’的。“总的来说,依附在体制内的作家一直在沿袭传统主流的写作方式,同质化现象比较严重。体制外的作家则更自由一些,试图创造更多丰富多样的形式和风格。” 虽然她没有说明,但不难猜出她是属于哪一类型。


On a more individual level, she says that biggest challenge she faces is figuring out what to write. “For the first few years I was writing, I focused on basic writing technique. But lately, I’ve found that what to write has become a central question.” No longer content with just writing about personal experience, Da Tou Ma aspires to produce something of lasting value – something that not only has meaning for herself as an individual but can also speak to people outside her immediate circle.

“Answering the question of ‘what to write’ means figuring out how to look at this world and these times, and how to get a deeper understanding of the world and produce work that goes beyond the times,” she says. “That’s the fundamental challenge.”

Click here to read an excerpt of How to Write a Worstseller. To purchase the Chinese edition of the book, click here.

在个人层面上,她表示目前面临到的最大挑战是弄清楚 ‘写什么’。 “前几年刚开始写作时,我都在处理基本写作技巧上的问题。但写到现在,我发现 ‘写什么’ 才是关键。” 大头马不再满足于写个人经历,她渴望能创作出更多具有持久价值的东西。写出不仅对个人有意义,同时也可以对其他人产生共鸣的作品。

“ 当你知道了要‘写什么’,意味着你知道如何去看待这个世界,以及如何更深刻地进一步了解它。能不能写出跨越时代的作品,是所有作家最根本的挑战。”


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Contributor: Allen Young
Photographer: Nathan Wang

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投稿人: Allen Young
摄影师: Nathan Wang