Among the Writers

Joanna Biggs

On the afternoon of 14 March, as the National People’s Congress was coming to an end in Beijing, men huddled to play cards in Hanzhongmen Square, Nanjing. Washing was spread over hedges to dry, tiny dusty birds sang in cages hung from the branches of trees, dogs fought, babies were sung to by their grandmothers and a street-sweeper stopped to help a man lift an iron bar. That evening, as part of a group of journalists brought to China by the British Council to meet Chinese writers, we interviewed Lu Yang, a professor of Chinese at Nanjing Normal University with a shaggy Beatles-style haircut and a grey cable-knit jumper, who thought it boring that our line of questioning began with the Cultural Revolution. He went off to smoke before coming back to be asked about his work, which he described as being about existence and non-existence, as blending past, present and future and as influenced by music and painting. I pushed my luck when I asked him whether his work was Cubist, and he said: ‘A meeting like this is like a shallow dream.’

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