Chinese writer finds freedom in English

Wed Apr 22, 2009 8:11pm EDT
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By Ben Blanchard

BEIJING (Reuters Life!) - As a dancer with the People's Liberation Army during the chaos of China's Cultural Revolution, Yan Geling came of age in an era where you had to obey instructions.

And as a writer in Chinese in China, she has to do the same to satisfy the censor and get her work published. Which is why Yan says she likes writing in English: it gives her greater freedom.

"My dream is to write with both pens, in English and Chinese. I want to be more truthful and more straightforward when I write in English," she told Reuters in a recent interview, speaking on the sidelines of an event in Beijing organized by New York's Barnard College.

"I consider myself as having two selves. One self is Chinese and more delicate, more subtle, in terms of language. But the English self is young and audacious, and I say what I want to say," the softly spoken U.S.-educated author added.

Yan has won plaudits for books like "The Lost Daughter of Happiness," the tale of a Chinese prostitute abducted from China to work in the United States in the 19th century.

That book was written in Chinese and translated into English, but Yan also writes in English, as well as rewrites books she wrote originally in Chinese, into English.

"It's frustrating seeing things lost in translation. Some expressions are just so Chinese, or so English, you have to switch your thinking to English in order to write it with spontaneity and naturally," she said.

Currently working on a novel in Chinese about a high school student in contemporary China, Yan nods when asked if she feels freer when writing in English.   Continued...

<p>A Chinese man reads a book as another walks between shelves at the 'Utopia' bookshop in central Beijing in this March 25, 2009 file picture. REUTERS/David Gray /Files</p>