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GIVE A VOICE TO THE VOICELESS, Interview with Zhang Lijia, Author of Lotus

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      寮犱附浣筹紙Lijia Zhang锛夊コ澹1964骞5鏈1鏃ュ嚭鐢熶簬涓浗鍗椾含锛岀洰鍓嶆槸涓鍚嶈嚜鐢变綔瀹讹紝璁拌呭強婕旇瀹躲傛棭骞撮棿寮犱附浣冲氨绔嬪織鎴愪负涓鍚嶄綔瀹讹紝鐒惰16宀佹椂杩簬鐢熸椿濂逛笉寰楀凡鏀惧純浜嗚嚜宸辩殑姹傚鐢熸动锛屽埌涓鎵宸ュ巶鍋氬伐銆備篃姝f槸鍦ㄦ鏃跺ス鑷浜嗚嫳鏂囷紝涓烘湭鏉ユ墦涓嬩簡鍩虹銆


      2003骞存椂濂瑰緱浠ヨ荡鑻卞浗閲戝彶瀵嗘柉瀛﹂櫌姹傚锛屽涔犺嫳鏂囧垱浣滐紝闅忓悗濂圭殑鏂囩珷寮濮嬭璇稿ぇ灏忔姤鍒婃潅蹇楋紝鍚庢潵涓哄瀹舵姤鍒婃潅蹇楁挵鍐欐湁鍏充腑鍥界殑鎶ラ亾銆傚ス褰㈠鑷繁涓烘矡閫氫腑鍥戒笌涓栫晫鐨“浜ゆ祦鑰”銆傚紶涓戒匠鏇惧湪澶氭墍缇庡浗钁楀悕澶у婕旇锛屽叾涓寘鎷柉鍧︾澶у锛屽搱浣涘ぇ瀛︼紝鎮夊凹澶у绛夌煡鍚嶅搴溿

      寮犱附浣充竴瀹朵笁浠g殑濂虫х粡鍘嗕簡浠庢枃鐩插埌鍥芥湁宸ュ巶鐨勫伐浜烘渶鍚庡啀鍒颁腑鍥戒互澶栨洿骞块様鐨勪笘鐣岀殑鍙戝睍銆傚叾闂达紝寮犱附浣虫湰浜哄畬鎴愪簡浠庡嵄闄╃殑鐏鍒堕犲伐鍘傜殑宸ヤ綔鍒板浗闄呰鑰呭拰鐣呴攢涔︺婄ぞ浼氫富涔夊ソ銆嬩綔鑰呯殑杞彉銆傚ス鐨勫搴晠浜嬭鏄庝簡涓浗浜哄挨鍏舵槸涓浗濂虫у湪杩囧幓鍗婁釜涓栫邯鍙栧緱鐨勫法澶ц繘姝ャ傚湪寮犱附浣崇殑韬笂锛屾垜浠彲浠ョ湅鍒21涓栫邯涓浗濂虫ч潰瀵圭殑宸ㄥぇ鍙樺寲鍜屾寫鎴樸

      浠婂ぉ鎴戜滑瑕佷粙缁嶅埌鐨勮繖鏈皬璇淬婅幉鑺便(Lotus) 鏄紶涓戒匠鐨勭涓閮ㄥ皬璇淬備负浜嗚繖鏈皬璇村ス鍓嶅墠鍚庡悗鍐欎簡12骞淬傛湰涔︽槸鍙楀埌濂圭殑濂跺ザ鐨勫惎鍙戝啓灏便傚紶涓戒匠鐨勫ザ濂跺勾杞绘椂鏇捐鍗栧埌濡撻櫌锛岀粡鍘嗕簡鎮叉儴鐨勭敓娲汇備负浜嗗啓浣滆繖閮ㄥ皬璇达紝寮犱附浣虫繁鍏ュ濂崇殑鐢熸椿锛屽苟灏藉彲鑳戒笌濂逛滑浜ゆ湅鍙嬶紝浜嗚В濂逛滑鐨勮壈闅惧澧冦傚叾涓殑浜虹墿鏈夎鏈夎倝锛屼粠渚ч潰鍒荤敾浜嗗コ瀛╄拷瀵昏嚜鎴戠殑鍚屾椂涓庣幇瀹炴姉浜夌殑鐢熸椿澧冮亣銆傚紶涓戒匠甯屾湜鑷繁鐨勪綔鍝佽兘涓鸿繖浜涚敓娲诲湪绀句細搴曞眰鐨勫急鍔跨兢浣撳彂澹帮紝璁╂洿澶氫汉浜嗚В濂逛滑銆

      鍐欎綔鐨勮繃绋嬩篃骞堕潪涓甯嗛椤猴紝鏈熼棿寮犱附浣充篃閬囧埌浜嗕笉灏戠殑鍥伴毦鍜屾寫鎴樸傚叧浜庡紶涓戒匠鐨勬柊涔︿互鍙婂ス鏈潵鐨勫啓浣滆鍒掞紝鏈湡“灏侀潰鏁呬簨”鎴戜滑灏嗕负鎮ㄤ竴涓鎻檽銆
 
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Lijia Zhang is the author of Socialism Is Great!, a caustic memoir of her experience growing up in 1980s China. She has just published Lotus, a novel about a woman from Sichuan who gets caught up in the sex trade in Shenzhen yet who has ambitions to make something more of herself. Inspired by the deathbed revelation that her grandmother had been sold into a brothel, Zhang aims to give a voice to the voiceless and the powerless. I spoke to her about researching the novel and the difficulties of relating a different culture in a foreign language.
 
c24d_square_orig.jpgCan you tell us the story of how you researched the novel? 
 
I interviewed many sex workers in Shenzhen, Dongguan, Beihai, Beijing and Tianjin. When you don’t know them well, they don’t always tell you the whole story. I tried to make friends with them, but it was hard to maintain a friendship with them, as their lives were often transient as they moved from one city to another, from one parlour to another, they changed their mobile or they simply vanished. What really helped me to gain insight was my experience of working for a NGO for female sex workers in a northern city in China. Lotus is a purely work of fiction (not another memoir based on personal experience) but many details, Lotus’s first handjob, for example, are real, and learned from the girls I befriended with.
 
The character Binbing is based on the real photographer Zhao Tielin, who photographed sex workers in Hainan. Did you meet Zhao in person? 
 
Yes, I indeed met him, quite a few times. But I never really had in-depth conversations with him, which would have allow me to find out the deeper reasons why he would live among the working girls and photographed them obsessively, beyond the grand reason of giving a voice to people with no voice. I was hoping to do so after I got to know him better. But he fell ill and passed away. I did read all of his books. 
 
The photographer character Hu Binbing in Lotus is inspired by Zhao. What’s Hu’s motivation? I hinted – perhaps too subtly – that photographing prostitutes serves Hu as a tool to achieve success, to prove to his ex-wife that she’s wrong about him, as well as to feed his own sexual fantasies.
 
Did you have any literary models or inspirations in writing the book? 
 
No, I don’t really have any literary models when writing the book. Generally speaking, I love social realism. Back in my factory days, when I tried to teach myself English, I fell in love with Dickens who used realism to portray the harsh reality of his time. Tolstoy is my most favourite novelist of all time as his books have a richly detailed but panoramic view of Russian society. And indeed, I admire Nabokov for his creative use of language.
 
In preparing to write this novel, I carefully read novels such as The Poison Wood Bible, The Kite Runner, Balzac and The Little Chinese Seamstress, to learn how to tell a good story to an audience from a different culture. 
 
Zhang_Lijia_05_2.jpgWhat was the meaning of the reference to the novel Portrait of a Lady?
 
For me, the novel is also about the journey of a young woman finding herself. I very much appreciated the theme in Portrait of a Lady – a young woman confronting her destiny.
 
Lotus’ returns to Sichuan have a heart-rending quality to them. Have you had similar experiences?
 
Yes, I’ve had similar experiences. I’ve travelled quite far from where I came from – if I do say so myself. I am often irritated by my parents’ bad habits such as throwing rubbish anywhere and spitting.
 
I’ve followed working girls returning to their home villages. I noticed that they always put on their finest outfits; and like me, they often criticized their family members' 'peasant behaviors' like spitting and littering: they feel they are entitled to do so because their financial help to their families elevated their positions at home.
 
Why did the novel take 12 years to write? Did it go through many drafts?
 
It did take 12 years to complete, during which time I did many other things. I had to make a living as I have children to support. I did indeed go through many drafts. In the early drafts, the writing was far too journalistic. I also experimented with the point of view. At one point, I wrote entire conversations in pigeon English, for example: “Where is the toilet” would be “Toilet is where?” But I decided it didn’t work and started another draft. Of course, bear in mind, English isn’t my native tongue, which means I write slowly, very slowly.
 
What is your typical writing day and what is your writing environment like?
 
I don’t really have a typical writing day. When I can, I try to write 300 words, even though I may chop out 250 the next day. I write mostly in my study. I live in a lovely house in the outskirts of Beijing, in an area populated by migrant workers, who use the similar sort of earthy language as my characters. 
 
Did you have a didactic aim in writing Lotus, or were you trying to simply give a voice to women like your grandmother?
 
Yes, I do have a didactic aim and I do want to give a voice to the women like my grandma. Having spent plenty of time with the working girls, I’ve gained much empathy and sympathy for them. Most women, those from low-middle establishments in particularly, got into the trade due to circumstances such as poverty or some tragic personal events. Almost all support their families financially. Drug abuse is uncommon.
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I like the combination of poetic prose and earthy dialogue. Is it hard to convey Chinese thinking and feeling in English this way? Is this an attempt to convey the two aspects of Lotus – her grimy day-to-day existence and her dream of a better life?
 
I try to borrow Chinese saying and expressions. But it is often hard to translate the sayings into English directly. For example, we have a saying “A man has his face just as a tree as its bark’, implying that a man has a sense of shame. But I am not sure it works in English.
 
Yes, to the second question, as symbolized by the name she gives herself - Lotus, from the Chinese saying: The Lotus springs from mud but yet not imbrued.
 
You moved from memoir to a novel. Which did you find easier or more fun to write? 
 
I found writing fiction so much harder. The freedom to create anything you like is both exhilarating but intimidating! I enjoy writing profile stories, which I still do from time to time. It’s good fun as I love people and appreciate the opportunity of really getting to know someone.
 
I am trying to write some short stories, some of which I made use from materials chopped off from the novel.
 
What are your literary projects for the future?
 
I’ve already started a narrative non-fiction on China’s left-behind children, featuring one village in Guizhou, in Southwest China. Using real life material, I can apply fiction techniques to make the book more enticing and readable. I think literary non-fiction is the way to go for me – for now anyway.
 
Lotus is published by Henry Holt & Company and is out now.
 
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