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THE SUBPLOT by Megan Walsh


What China Is Reading and Why It Matters

by Megan Walsh

Pub Date: Feb. 8th, 2022
ISBN: 978-1-7359136-6-7
Publisher: Columbia Global Reports

The gripping yet uneasy state of literature in China.

Journalist Walsh’s first book is an eye-opening glimpse into China’s “intentionally hazy” authoritarian political climate of censorship and propaganda, which disorientates its fiction scene—a “mixture of staggering invention, bravery, and humanity, as well as soul-crushing submission and pragmatism.” China is in the midst of a science-fiction golden age thanks to novels like Liu Cixin’s global bestseller, The Three-Body Problem(2015), among others. Walsh describes how many young writers embrace online or self-publishing to bypass China’s state-controlled publishing program as they “reveal the truth and highlight what is still hidden.” Mo Yan, the Nobel Prize–winning author, is both praised and condemned as a mouthpiece for the state; Walsh calls his fiction “garrulous, feverish, and often smutty.” Female author Wei Hui’s 1999 erotic bestseller, Shanghai Baby, showed that in “China’s new market economy sex and controversy were great for business.” The rise of China’s internet and its rural migrant workers spawned the most comprehensive poetry movement in the world, while Lu Yao’s novels portrayed “poor, rural idealists dreaming up a new life in the city.” Walsh chronicles how hugely popular, escapist online fantasy novels reveal the “mercenary, amoral instincts of the market.” The government has cashed in with its own University of Online Fiction, with Mo Yan “nominally at the helm, a move he finds as peculiar as anyone else.” Largely dominated by Japanese manga, China has “become the biggest comic book market in the world,” with its underground comics scene providing a transgressive and masochistic view of the world. Tibetan and Han Chinese writers, writes Walsh, “have played a controversial role in both the elevation and erosion of ethnic difference.” In a society with a draconian legal system, crime fiction lags far behind SF. As Walsh cautiously writes, it’s “hard to say what the future holds.”

A succinct, fascinating overview of literary ambivalence in China.