It feels like China’s obscenity laws are ready for a challenge like Lady Chatterley’s Lover. However, a sudden overhaul of this antiquated legislation doesn’t seem likely – to this day, people still get punished for printing 《金瓶梅》(The Plum in the Golden Vase), an erotic Ming dynasty novel that is considered a literary classic. According to Shanghaiist, a man with the surname Zhou was fined ¥10,000 for illegally printing this notorious work:
According to The Beijing Cultural Law Enforcement Agency, our man Zhou set up his own super-secret publishing house in Tongzhou district, and printed over 2,000 copies of a Qing dynasty version of the book (believed to be a more complete version than the current abridged one) between March and April. All the copies and a stapling machine have since been confiscated, Sina reports.
Zhou has also been fined 10,000 yuan (around $1,535) for his crime, and his actions are the first to be punished under amended regulations that took effect in January, which ban individuals from printing or publishing materials without legal permission.
The New York Times recently published a short piece by Yan Lianke [ 閻連科 ], the author of Dream of Ding Village [《丁莊夢》] and Lenin’s Kisses [《受活》]. As you might expect, his description of modern China is rather bleak, even compared to the horrors previous generations in mainland China experienced – Yan was too young to remember much of the famine caused by the Great Leap Forward but recalls what his mother told him about survival:
Holding my hand, my mother pointed to the white clay and yellow earth of the wall, and said, “Son, you must always remember, when people are starving to death they may eat this white clay and elm tree bark, but if they try to eat that yellow earth or the bark of any other kind of tree they will die even faster.”
As many other writers who lived through the Mao era, Yan doesn’t have much good to say about contemporary China, but offers little in terms of solutions. For him, it might be about survival, though – the last writer to offer any alternative is still locked up in prison.
This years Man Booker Prize has just been announced. This year’s winner is the Australian novelist Richard Flanagan who was awarded the prize thanks to the the novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North, a multi-layered novel about a prisoner of war in wartime South-East Asia. There was a recent review of the book in The Economist that explained the author’s family connection to the war — his father had been a POW in a Japanese camp:
Arch Flanagan was an Australian soldier captured in Java by the Japanese during the second world war. He became one of “Dunlop’s Thousand”, a near-mythical group of prisoners led by Lieutenant-Colonel Edward “Weary” Dunlop, who were sent to build the “Death Railway” between Thailand and Burma.
According to the Guardian , the war and the subsequent novel became intimately connected to the son’s own life:
[Arch Flanagan] died aged 98 on the day Flanagan emailed his final draft to his publisher.
“I grew up, as did my five siblings, as children of the Death Railway,” Flanagan said. “We carried many incommunicable things and I realised at a certain point … that I would have to write this book.”
Over 12 years he wrote five drafts that he deemed deficient and burned, but he was intent on finishing before his father died.
He stressed that the novel was not his father’s story, although he had asked him lots of questions – “the nature of mud, the smell of rotting shin bone when a tropical ulcer has opened up, what sour rice tasted like for breakfast”.
By the way, the title of the novel is of course a nod to the The Narrow Road to the Deep North [《奥の細道》], which is a 17th-century collection of haiku poems by Matsuo Bashō [松尾芭蕉] — a zen-inspired work outlining the poet’s travels in Japan’s interior: