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August 23, 2011

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Mainland fans for Taiwan, Hong Kong writers

WRITING by contemporary Hong Kong and Taiwan authors is increasingly popular among mainland readers who like Hong Kong urban dramas and Taiwan tales that are written in a more traditional and elaborate style. Yao Minji reports.

At a recent book signing, dozens of eager readers formed three long lines in front of three authors of about the same age, Bi Feiyu from Nanjing, Lo Yi-Chin from Taiwan and Dung Kai Cheung from Hong Kong.

They had just completed a panel discussion and focused on their own different experiences at the event at the Shanghai Book Fair. The fair closes today.

Bi recently won the 2010 Man Asian Literary Prize with "Three Sisters," and he has already won fame in China with a handful of novels including "The Moon Opera," which was adapted into a popular TV serial drama.

Lo's latest novel is "Et Nunc Manet In Te," in memory of a Taiwan writer who committed suicide. Dung's latest work is "Heavenly Lifelike Creations."

Compared with Bi, Lo and Dung are considered lesser known on the Chinese mainland, although they have established their literary reputations in Taiwan and Hong Kong. Last year one of Dung's books "Heavenly Lifelike Creations" was released on the mainland. Lo's novel "Et Nunc Manet In Te" was released in June.

Despite their late entry to the mainland market, the Hong Kong and Taiwan writers received a warm welcome, as warm as that for Bi himself. The three writers' presentation overlaped with the fair's opening ceremony that attracted many celebrities, but faithful readsof Lo and Dung preferred to get their books signed. Some came from far out of town and brought a number of books to be signed.

These mainland readers have been caught up in one of the latest reading trends on the Chinese mainland - new-generation Hong Kong and Taiwan literature.

The two areas were not in contact with the mainland for many years and until the late 1980s and 90s their literature was unknown to the general public when it was possible to introduce books from Taiwan and Hong Kong; state-owned publishers on the mainland were looking outward for best sellers.

The first wave of Hong Kong and Taiwan included best-selling authors such as Hong Kong martial arts novelist Louis Cha and Taiwanese essayist and novelist Chen Ping (penname San Mao). Their books were fresh and exhilarating for Chinese youth at the time. It was said that all the guys at school read Louis Cha while all the girls read San Mao.

But it was not until two or three years ago that more serious and equally established writers were published on the mainland, including Taiwan novelist Zhang Dachun and Hong Kong writer Liu Yichang (whose novellas "Tete-beche" inspired Wong Kar-wai's award-winning film "In the Mood for Love"), among many others.

Some works were translated into English and other languages before they were introduced in Chinese to mainland readers.

"You might think mainland readers are not so familiar with these writers, since they have never been introduced here, but young people can find many resources online and are very fond of them. They even formed book discusison groups," says Chen Lingyun, editor at Beijing BBT Publishing Consultant Co. Chen has been editing and publishing Zhang's and Lo's books since last year. "These books may not be best-sellers, but as a special genre, they have faithful readers and can sell steadily," he told Shanghai Daily.

Likewise, many prestigious mainland publishers have placed emphasis on contemporary Hong Kong and Taiwan literatue, especially since 2008, and they have long wish-lists for the next few years.

One reason behind the hunger for Hong Kong and Taiwan works is lack of works form contemporary mainalnd writers.

"I edited and published a Taiwan novel by Zhang Dachun in 2008, my first Taiwan book, partly because there weren't many published books by mainland writers on the same level and of around the same age," says Liu Zhilin, literature editor of Horizon Media of Shanghai Century Publishing.

"There was a blank in the market."

After the first book, the movement kept snowballing since "readers here find Hong Kong and Taiwan novels quite fresh," says Liu.

Her comments are echoed by Bi, who finds Dung and Lo's books very different from his own.

"Our works are like blocks of wood chopped from different parts of an ancient tree. The shapes of the blocks are different and they are also made into various items, maybe mine a chair, Dung's a wall, Lo's a sculpture, and so on," says Bi.

"What fascinates me is that the textures and density of them are almost exactly the same. That's the charm of Chinese language and literature."

Though each writer has his distinctive style and recurring themes, some generalizations can be made about the contemporary literature of the three places, making it easy to tell where the author is from.

In a general sense, many famous mainland writers tell stories of the countryside and often follow the protagonist's life through an historical period, such as the "cultural revolution" (1966-76), to the Reform and Opening-Up policy that was announced in late 1978.

"Such novels are awesome and a great way for me to learn about the history and the places that I know very little about, but I often find it difficult to enter the novelist's re-created world, because I have nothing to relate to it," says Zhu Ling, a 27-year-old white collar, who joined an online interest group of Hong Kong and Taiwan literature and buys almost all newly published Taiwan and Hong Kong novels.

"On the other hand, many Hong Kong writers are more fond of the urban life, about emotional struggles in a fast-paced metropolis, which is what I have been experiencing even though I am thousands of miles away form them."

Other noticeable writers in Hong Kong and Taiwan

(With books available in English translation)

Liu Yichang

A native Shanghinese, Liu was a journalist in Chongqing and moved to Hong Kong in 1948. He founded the influential Hong Kong Literature Monthly magazine and still serves as editor today. He is a noted translator of Western fiction into Chinese.

One of his best-known stream of consciousness novels "Tete-beche" inspired director Wong Kar-wai's multiple award-winning movie "In the Mood for Love."

Zhang Dachun

The 54-year-old Taiwan author and literary critic is considered one of the most established contemporary Chinese novelists. He makes skillful use of magical realism, blending symbols and metaphors, exaggerations and destroying the demarcation between the subjective and the objective world. His novels include "My Kid Sister" and "Wild Child."


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