The Guardian’s Tom Phillips in Beijing reports that Xi Jinping’s foray into literary criticism is beginning to have some very concrete manifestations in the world of Chinese popular fiction:
It was the scrawl of red ink snaking around paragraphs that told novelist Sheng Keyi how much things had changed. Just over a decade ago, Sheng’s best-selling breakthrough novel, Northern Girls (北妹), was published uncensored in mainland China to critical acclaim.
But last month, as editors prepared to launch a third edition of the book, the author was informed that parts of her text were no longer publishable.
“It is ridiculous,” Sheng complained, pointing to an editors’ manuscript on which a red ballpoint pen had been used to highlight sections that now needed excising. “It doesn’t feel like something that could happen in real life and it makes me quite angry.”
Sheng, 42, is clear about why parts of her once-celebrated novel have suddenly become taboo. The blame, she believes, lies with the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, whose reign, which completes three years on Sunday, has brought a political chill of the kind not felt in decades.
Sipping a glass of carrot juice at a café near her Beijing home, Sheng lamented the toll Xi’s tenure was taking on contemporary Chinese literature. “Personally, I feel depressed,” she said
Communist party spin doctors have sought to portray Xi not only as an unassailable strongman but also as a bookish man of letters. From Byron to Balzac, Walt Whitman to La Fontaine, China’s bibliophile leader has repeatedly used overseas speeches to show off the depth of his literary knowledge.
In Russia, Xi boasted of having read Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Gogol; in France, he reached for Flaubert, Stendhal and Molière.
For the full interview with Sheng Keyi (盛可以) — including translations of the censored passages, one about a forced abortion and the other about a “permanent solution” to a couple’s reproductive functions — visit Publishers under Pressure.
See also: Madame Xi Jinping’s role in the Revival of the White-Haired Girl, and Xi Jinping’s “Little Red Book” for Art Workers of the Nation.