London Book Fair. Event 2
Like Jung Chang, Bi Feiyu also thinks that it is important that China does not forget its recent past. His book, Three Sisters, is an exploration of family and rural life during the Cultural Revolution, and won the Man Asian Literary Prize in 2010. He was interviewed by Rosie Goldsmith - and very entertaining it was too!
Rosie Goldsmith pointed out that he showed an extraordinary psychological empathy to women, and the book contains a lot of explicitly described sex. Bi Feiyu explained that during the Cultural Revolution, sex was considered shameful, so that being able to describe it now is a sign of comparative liberalisation. He said that although sex may appear to be controlled on the surface that deep down there are 'storms going on'. He said sex was important to the book, and he made sure it was in there from beginning to end. The Chinese are more liberated now than the British (at which Rosie Goldsmith said that she was now very interested in Chinese modern literature!).
He talked a little about co-writing his book for screen, and admitted that a lot of his work had been removed with the script-editor's red pen.
It was seven years before his book was translated into English, and he couldn't really decide which of his other nine novels he would most like to be translated, replying simply 'all of them'. He then spoke of his 2008 novel, Chinese Massage, which deals with the blind community in China. This section of society has been neglected, although altogether the population of blind people in China is as great as a medium-sized European country.
He said that although all writers work under restraint in China, each writer also has the freedom to express what they think in their own way. To illustrate this he used a metaphor of a twelve year old boy falling in love with a girl. His class-mates may not agree, but as long as the boy has passion, he will find a way to express it.
When asked how he felt about the controversy of the London Book Fair inviting just writers approved by the Chinese government (he is one of the 21 invited), he replied that controversy is always good - and that he intended to come back to England even if the reception to his book was not positive.