By Dennis Abrams
It’s been a year and a half since China’s Mo Yan won the Nobel Prize in Literature, sparking an interest in other Chinese authors around the world. But has that interest affected Chinese writers at home?
The Wall Street Journal’s China Real Time spoke with Eric Abrahamsen and Canaan Morse, editors and translators at the Chinese literary magazine Pathlight to get their take on the nations’ literary scene.
Has the Chinese literary scene changed since Mo Yan won the Nobel?
Abrahamsen: It’s a little too early to tell. Especially when you’re talking about international editors developing an interest in Chinese literature. You’d be likely to see a result in three or four years.
Has an initial interest occurred?
Morse: I think it has. The most significant changes have been within China. The national secondary-school Chinese-language curriculums began to include Mo Yan. Some of Lu Xun’s works were kicked out.
Abrahamsen: Practically speaking, a lot of funds opened up for promoting literature abroad, local provincial level governments have started pushing their provincial literature.
One of the ironies about Mo Yan is that his style of writing is a kind of Chinese is a kind of Chinese literature that international publishers are getting tired of and are deciding not to continue publishing – the very long, epic novels about China’s rural problems and recent history. There’s a real fatigue among publishers and among readers.
How about translators?
Abrahamsen: The most fatigued of all. There’s a disease of the ‘great China novel’ that’s attacking Chinese writers. They feel they have to produce these enormous things that explain all of Chinese society and are filled with philosophy and ideas and thoughts. And they tend to believe that’s more important than story or character.
Is there an editorial process that helps curb that?
Abrahamsen: That’s actually conspicuously lacking. Everyone feels good about a 300-page novel. The writers feels like they’ve done something, the publisher feels they’ve spent money on paper to good effect, and readers feel like they’ve got their money’s worth because it weighs a lot.
Morse: Chinese writers right now don’t take tiny, pittance advances from foreign publishers. The advances they get from publishers in China are larger.
How much of a difference?
Morse: We’ll take an extreme example. Mai Jia’s advance supposedly from his Chinese publisher was over 10 million yuan ($1.6 million). You could push [a foreign publisher] to maybe $10,000 at best.
Why are publishers paying that much up front?
Abrahamsen: It’s the writers who have that kind of profile inside the country that are getting noticed outside the country. They’re the ones who are getting these bizarre discrepancies.