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Yutori Iizuka

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A New Generation of Chinese Writers

Yutori Iizuka
Professor of Contemporary Chinese Literature and Drama, Faculty of Letters, Chuo University

The Emergence of "After '80" Writers

More than 30 years after reform and liberalization, Chinese literature has become increasingly diverse and commercial. This diversification has encompassed writers of differing age groups and social classes and the content and form of their works-even for specialized media such as books, magazines, and posting on the internet. While conventional, pure literature has become marginalized, the writings of people born in the 1980's, known as balinghou ("after '80") in China, have been basking in the limelight. Leading the way are two young writers: Guo Jingming and Han Han.

Guo Jingming-the Writer

Guo Jingming was born in 1983. In 2003, City of Fantasy, his debut novel, attracted instant success, selling 1.5 million copies. He published the literary magazines, Island in 2004, and Top Novel (Zui Xiaoshuo) in 2006, citing his own works and those of other contemporary writers, and became China's top-earning writer in 2007 and 2008. At the same time, his writings have often aroused the suspicion of plagiarism. An influence from the Japanese cartoonist group Clamp has also been pointed out and it is easy to criticize him as "another rip-off artist." Yet, what are we to gain from such a hasty judgment? We should focus on how reading trends of young people in China are changing rapidly, and how a huge market, similar to Japan's, has formed there. It is hard to ignore the fact that the above-mentioned magazine Top Novel has a circulation of around 500,000, while Guo Jingming's best sellers have sold more than 1 million copies. The Chinese literary establishment now recognizes him and his influence. In 2007, he joined the Chinese Writers' Association, and it has been widely reported that in 2009, his works were featured in the nationwide version of People's Literature (Renmin Wenxue)-the nation's traditional literary magazine.

Han Han-the Writer

Born in 1982, another writer, Han Han is characterized by his powerfully critical faculties. His debut came in 2000 with Triple Gate, (Shanghai Beat in Japanese editions), a work which depicts his own harsh experiences in the entrance exam war. This became a best-seller (around 2 million copies), and led the way for the boom in "after '80" generation writers. After that, his popularity surged as he pursued a career as a race car driver while he continued to write. 1988: I Want to Talk with the World (Wo Xiang he Zhege Shijie Tantan), his latest novel, was published last year. It features the travels, recollections and relationships experienced by the owner of a rickety old car made in 1988. At 988 yuan (around 13,000 yen), the price of this sumptuous book-which has had 700,000 copies of the first edition and 100 limited editions printed-has been talked about time and again, while in recent times, bold remarks made in his blog have been attracting attention both inside China and from overseas. At the time when the collision in the Senkaku Islands was creating a stir last year, a Japanese newspaper quoted him as having said how "it is meaningless for people to demonstrate against other countries when they are unable to make a protest about problems at home." It would appear that Party, the magazine he launched in June last year was discontinued after inspection, as the image of Han Han as a universal outlaw remains.

On the Sino-Japan Young Writers' Conference

Having said this, it should be noted that Guo Jingming and Han Han are relatively unknown to Japanese people, and one wonders how we might possibly relate to these young writers. Perhaps this was part of the thinking behind the Sino-Japanese Young Writers' Conference held in Beijing last September. The conference was sponsored by the Institute of Foreign Literature at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, and I also participated in the conference, with the frame of reference of a critic/researcher. Although Guo Jingming and Han Han were missing from the Chinese side, in addition to "after '80" female writer Zhang Yueran, the delegation was headed by 60's generation writer Mai Jia and attended by 70's generation novelists Li Hao, Wei Wei, Ge Liang, Annie Baby, Cui Manli, and a host of young writers. The Japanese side, headed by Fuminori Nakamura, had a lineup which included Risa Wataya, Nanae Aoyama, Nao-cola Yamazaki, Kanako Nishi, Sayaka Murata and Keisuke Hada. All these writers belong to the "after '70" or "after '80" generation, to use the Chinese expression, and it was striking how earnestly they listened to what the Chinese writers had to say. This second conference was a follow-up to an earlier one held in Beijing in 2007, and I gather that there are plans to stage the next meeting in Japan. Some of the writers had participated previously, something which seemed to help deepen understanding and establish a certain amount of common ground over values.

Towards a new Cultural Exchange

I think that, as a premise for cultural exchange between Japan and China, there used to be a kind of reverence in Japan towards traditional Chinese culture, but since Japan has now lost this reverence there is a clear need to re-establish this foundation. Similarly, for some time now the Chinese have stopped simply regarding Japan as an ideal advanced nation to emulate. Small wonder, then, that there have been collisions. With this so-called anti-Chinese sentiment engulfing Japan, the importance of cultural exchange has become even more evident. Initially, this exchange needs to happen at the individual level-starting with the work of literary individuals-and I truly hope that literature can become a window to convey the true nature and thoughts of people from neighboring countries.

Yutori Iizuka
Professor of Contemporary Chinese Literature and Drama, Faculty of Letters, Chuo University
Born in Hokkaido in 1954, Yutori Iizuka graduated from the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities at Tokyo Metropolitan University in 1977 and received his master's degree at the same institution in 1979. Having decided not to finish his doctorate there in 1982, he became a full-time lecturer and assistant professor at Chuo University's Faculty of Letters before taking up his current position in 1996. He has researched and translated a large number of contemporary Chinese literary works, including plays.
He has co-written works such as Break from the Norm-A Search for Contemporary Chinese Writers [Kihan Kara no Ridatsu-Chugoku Dojidai Sakkatachi no Tansaku] (2006, Yamakawa Shuppansha Ltd), Current Research into Civilized Drama [Bunmeigi Kenkyu no Genzai] (2009, Toho Shoten) and The Light-beam of Modern Chinese Culture [Gendai Chugoku Bunka no Kobo] (2010, Chuo University Publishing Office). Works he has translated include Yu Hua's To Live (2002, Kadokawa Group Publishing Co., Ltd), Gao Xingjian's Soul Mountain (2003, Shueisha Inc.), Tie Ning's The Great Washed Woman (2004, Chuokoron-Shinsha, Inc.), Su Tong's Binu and the Great Wall (2008, Kadokawa Group Publishing Co., Ltd) and Cao Yu's Thunderstorm and The Wilderness (2009, Bansei Co., Ltd)