Feature: Contemporary literature helps West better understand China
LEEDS, United Kingdom, March 17 (Xinhua) — It's the first encounter between the worker-turned Chinese author Lu Nei and Britain's Yorkshire, land of White Rose. But the writer's novels about his fellow blue-collar workers in China struck a chord here.
Lu, who was invited to the Reading Chinese Book Review Network Residential Weekend hosted by the White Rose East Asia Center at University of Leeds, said his books tell the stories of his country in a retrospective manner.
"I think one of the reasons why they invited me is that they want to know more about the Chinese authors of the younger generation, to closely follow the heartbeat of China and better understand the country," he said. "The migrant workers and blue-collar workers in my books are constituents of today's China."
Born in the 1970s, Lu, some of whose novels are about laid-off workers in Chinese factories, said he is glad to visit Leeds, a historically industrial city known for its transformation to the the second largest legal and financial centre in Britain. Lu's novels were discussed and appreciated at the book review event.
Lu's first and the most famous book Young Babylon, which was published in 2007 and described by some book reviewers as China's Catcher in the Rye, recounts the semi-farcical adventures of a young man much like himself, while On the Trail of Her Travels is the story of a group of disaffected youth in a small town, who suddenly decide to take their futures into their own hands.
"One of the biggest misunderstandings of the Westerners towards China is that they think Chinese authors do not know how to retrospect,"he said. "That's what I was trying to do in my books."
Frances Weightman, a core researcher with the White Rose East Asia Center told Xinhua that contemporary Chinese literature will help the Western readers have a deeper understanding of China.
"We want to encourage and promote more people in the West to read the sorts of Chinese fiction which is popular in China today," she said. "If we are talking about cross-cultural understanding then I think that is something which is very important."
Weightman said that until recently in the UK "most people's concept of Chinese literature tends to be classics… and sometimes people have just said Chinese literature is all very tragic."
"What we wanted to do I think was to focus on something slightly different, to focus on literature which entertained people in literature," she added.
Weightman, who is also an associate professor of Chinese Studies at Leeds University, believed that contemporary Chinese literature, compared to classics, is comparatively in a small number in the West and not quite familiar to the people.
She stressed that good translators are "absolutely essential" for the Chinese literature to be read and for China and its people to be better understood by the rest of the world.
"I think that if people in the UK can read and laugh at something which was once written in China and Chinese and so on and laugh at the same sorts of things that their contemporaries in China were laughing at, then that's good," said the associate professor.
Despite the drastic increase of the number of Chinese-English literature translators over the past decade, there are still huge demands for the quality professionals.
Liu Qiao, head of the International Cooperation Department at China's People's Literature Publishing House which published Lu's book Benevolence in 2016, told Xinhua that the introduction of the contemporary Chinese literature to a wider Western readership is conducive to the cultivation of literature translators.
"Out of the 50 people who read and learn Chinese, you can expect four to five to become translators," she said.
Members of the Leeds review network, funded by Britain's Arts and Humanities Research Council, include graduates majoring in Chinese studies, university lecturers teaching contemporary Chinese literature and doctoral candidates specializing in modern Chinese literature and culture.
Andreea Chirita, a lecturer in Chinese literature with University of Bucharest and a member of the Reading Chinese Book Review Network, said she is eager to see more Chinese contemporary literature like Lu Nei's books being translated into English and Romanian.
Announcing himself as "one of the least-educated young writers in China," Lu seems to have profited rather than lost by a life that began in struggle. Since the age of 19, he held a series of menial jobs around China as he drifted, explored, fought and observed. He worked as factory worker, salesman, warehouse manager, radio broadcaster and still holds his day job in an advertising agency.
Lu was born in Suzhou, a southeast China city that provides common background for some of his novels. His interest in literature began while he had a job watching dials in a factory, with plenty of reading time on his hands.