Fan Wen: New Novel to Explore Culture Clash behind Yunnan-Vietnam Railway

Fan Wen (范稳), the Chinese Catholic author who recently completed his fictional trilogy spotlighting cultural and religious collisions in the “multicultural wonderland” of the Yunnan-Tibet border, now has another historical novel in mind.

The first book in the published series, Harmonious Land (水乳大地), recounts the tale of a multi-ethnic settlement in Lancangjiang Canyon (gateway to Tibet), beset by battles between arrogant French Catholic missionaries, incompetent officials and their marauding troops, Naxi Dongba Shamanists, and the dominant Tibetans, not all of whom lead pacific, vegetarian lives in the local lamasery.

Ethnic ChinaLit spoke with Fan Wen about his new work-in-progress:

Q: Word has it that you’re working on a new novel about the rail line linking China’s Kunming and Vietnam’s Haiphong that was constructed during French colonial rule of Indochina. How are you preparing for this project?

A: Yes, it’s about this railroad that’s soon to be completely abandoned. I rather enjoy the ‘history of decline’. It gives one a certain sense of desolation. After the Yunnan-Vietnam railway was completed [1910], it actually brought with it the collision and fusion of two distinct civilizations. The railway passed through the lands of several of Yunnan’s ethnic minorities, whose cultures were more backward than that of the Tibetans, and even more vulnerable. I intend to use several French nationals who were working on the railroad as the main characters. I’ll write about their lives in a foreign land, and their experiences against the backdrop of that alien culture, including the dangers they faced, their loves and their fates.

I’ve already read a lot of background material, conducted interviews along the line, and even stayed in the old train stations. I’m conceptualizing the story right now. [end]

Comments

  1. How can I get in touch with Fan Wen? I’m planning to travel (bus/walk) the Kunming-Hanoi railroad route to the VN border this October. I’d like to get some ideas. I speak a little putonghua – food, lodging, transportation, identity. Not good enough to handle opinions or feelings.

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