A controversial literary figure, Xue Xinran has exposed the real opinions of the Chinese people and the things they have endured as a result of the Cultural Revolution and China’s political structure. After interviewing women from across the country, Xinran relayed their stories in her first book, The Good Women of China, in 2002. Since then, she has come under fire from critics – her books are not allowed to be published in Chinese in mainland China, and she now lives in the UK. When she visits her homeland, she claims she is stopped at customs and criticised during her stay because of her work.
You’ve written many books on China. Why do you choose to highlight the negative aspects?
When people talk about China in the Western media, it’s very black and white. It’s not like that. On one hand you talk about this great nation, but you have to remember that more than 400 million people still live poorly there. There’s a huge gap between the city and the countryside. When we talk about China in a power position, we have to remember who made it like this. It is not the politicians, historians or economists. It’s the mothers and grandmothers who suffered. I’m proud to be a Chinese woman.
How do Chinese people perceive your work?
Some are angry and upset that I didn’t talk about the ‘good leaders’. The Good Women of China was published in 2002 and at that time many Chinese people hated me – they thought I made them lose face. Recently people have thanked me because they now understand my point. Now, many Chinese people come to my talks, no matter in which country I’m in.
You’ve risked your people going against you and have had problems visiting China. Is it worth it?
Yes. I think forgiving and understanding is a key point here – they help to bridge different cultures and create different judgments.
Your work is very courageous. So where do you go from here?
At the moment I’m writing about China’s single-child policy of 1981. The first generation now have their own families, and most of them have their own children. I’ve followed about seven or eight children in their late twenties or thirties. I can see how different they are from the previous generation because they are suddenly lost when they marry; they find the attention that mothers gave to them is now given to their own children.
Censorship laws are also strict here in the UAE. How would you advise our young writers?
A lot of journalists use the pen as a weapon, which means anyone you write about could be your enemy. This means you’re open to be attacked, so you have to truly believe what you are writing. But the pen is the greatest weapon of all.
Xinran will speak at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature on March 12. See www.eaifl.com for info.