On Friday I made another trip down to the Shanghai International Literary Festival to see mystery writer Qiu Xiaolong in conversation with Beijing-based mystery writer Catherine Sampson.
It was a great event for me because I have been reading Qiu’s work for about a year now. I find his books to be really engaging mystery fiction that is really difficult to put down. I tend to plow through his books in one or two days especially if I am traveling at the time. The biggest realization that I learned from the talk was how much Qiu’s writing accurately reflects the average Chinese person’s view on daily life and society.
This was amplified for me yesterday when I started to read Qiu’s A Case of Two Cities. The story revolves around Qiu’s main character Inspector Chen investigating the case of a corrupt official who has fled to the US. You can hear the anger of the average Chinese citizen on every page. How local and central government officials have used their positions to make themselves richer while many locals are just trying to get by. Superimpsed on this you’ve got a great mystery and the ever interesting and complex character of Inspector Chen.
I don’t this review to sound too much like I’m kissing ass but I really can’t think of anything bad to say about Qiu’s work except that at about 300 pages per book maybe they aren’t long enough for me. Thankfully after A Case of Two Cities I still have Red Mandarin Dress to read but after that I have to wait until next summer for the next one.
In my last post, I mentioned I was reading Duncan Hewitt’s Getting Rich First. Today I found out that Thomas Crampton posted a video of an interview he did with Hewitt recently. Hewitt spoke about the Internet, angry teenagers and censorship. The video is worth watching for those who have read the book as well as those who haven’t.
Last weekend, while I was at the Shanghai International Literary Festival I picked up Duncan Hewitt’s Getting Rich First: Life in a Changing China. I’ve been ill over the last week so I’ve had lots of time to go through it.
Hewitt’s first two chapters cover the demolition of old and ancient buildings in Beijing and Shanghai. The fact that he covers this movement is nothing new. Hewitt explains the situation that most of these homes are ancient cultural treasures — Western modeled ones in the sense of Shanghai and Chinese ones in the Sense of Beijing. He doesn’t stop there though.
Hewitt really injects humanity into the people here. He shows that people aren’t really just trying to save some old buildings, but a sense of community that has developed in Shanghainese lane communities and Beijing hutongs. This sense of community can’t survive in modern apartment buildings because the individual units put up divisions that isolate people from their communities in ways that don’t allow them to connect the same way as in the old buildings — even if its the same people.
It’s an interesting idea that holds people to these old buildings. You think a lack of private space and bad facilities would make people want to leave but instead it keeps them together and makes people want to save the buildings because they help to create the residents’ sense of community.
One of the last signs of China’s ancient community?
(Image from Greg Girard’s Phantom Shanghai)
I guess it’s just another idea that us Westerners have trouble getting our head around. We think that with our single-family detached homes that we have the only viable attempt at creating a community because we have a balance between private and public space. But once again the Chinese show us there are other ways to do things.