As much as I thought I was not going to do this Glutter thing for a while, I find it impossible not to make something really clear for the "Western" audience out there in Hong Kong and the world (and everyone else who didn't know this).
Chinese writers don't write with "The WEST," in mind.
As the Hong Kong literary festival unfolded, I realized how continually frustrated and displeased with the moderators and the majority of "Western" question asking audience's attitudes towards Chinese authors, as they often were obsessed with how the writer's word interact with "The West," "As I western reader, when I look at your book, I think it reminds me of Christainity even if you might not know." "Do you try and tell the "Western" audience something? And what are they?" "What do you do differently in your book because you have the western audience in mind now you have been published internationally and how do you say things differently? What do you feel about the "Western" way of seeing your the book because you know, we see it very different from the Chinese audience, what do you say to that?"
Can anything be more self referential and arrogant about the question especially if the writer already said, "Not much. I can't control how people read it, and anyway I wrote the book with Chinese people in mind. I wrote the book for Chinese people."
I didn't think Su Tong should have to answer that question in the same form in a little bit different context THREE times in an hour.
Like, his book wasn't translated for 15 years. I really don't think he was thinking about the "western" audience when he wrote it.
A western author would never be asked, "So when you wrote this book, how did you feel the Chinese audience would see it in mind? Do you write for the Chinese audience?"
I didn't hear it once in any of the talks by western writers not by the western audience and surely not by the Chinese audience either. Why? Because it's a preposterous question to begin with. Why would someone in America or Australia write his book with how someone from another culture view it. "Oh my, I really need to add this bit about the beach in the book so I can explain what the sea looks like for people in Inner Mongolia, I really want those people who don't know anything about California culture to have an understanding of how we think over here."
I mean, really how rude can the audience and the moderators be to Chinese authors?
Why do these people think that an author should spend time placating a few hundred thousand readers of translated text instead of a billion plus potential readers in the Chinese language?
In the end Su Tong said, "I think Chinese people know a lot more about western civilization than people in the west knows about China," which I would think is a big enough hint, about the narrowness of the topic but the same question kept coming.
Anyway, I still have five more lectures to go and I am starting to dread the whole festival for the most part because so far, as the questions asked isn't about the book, the content, or the stories at all. The majority of the hours is spent with the audience bombarding the author with questions about how the west sees the Chinese authors, or how the west should see Asia, or how hard it is to talk about Asia to the west.
Which is like the biggest reason I don't read most authors in English who writes about Asia, because the book is hardly ever about the characters or the plot or psychology. It's always about ASIA. It's about how some western author sees Asia, think about Asia, the people they met in Asia and how they are going to tell their readers back home about Asia.
All those books are the continuation of the legacy of western adventure novels and travel books from the 18th century that helps the west exoticize Asia and Asian people. (If it's not bad enough that writers in Chinese languages books is used to exoticize Chinese people as well by the "west.")
And what I also don't like is when Asian writers in English try to "explain," their culture to the western audience and that's part of the motivation behind the book. One shouldn't write to be a tour guide and one shouldn't write to enlighten a people about your "people". That's just playing into being "the other," it's bad enough have it done to you but it's pathetic to do it to oneself. It's as if that the author feels they are bestowed "special" status because they feel they are the "bridge" across cultures. The focus is all wrong. If one is to write a book, the glory is in the words, the stories, the ability to capture others attention, imagination, and emotions. It's not in what context you write in.
And in the vein of discussing how Chinese writers are treated differently in this festival than their "western" counter part. I still haven't gotten over how the moderator said in the Mian Mian talk, "I don't believe you when you say you are not partying and having sex. I mean you are not like the people in the book having Panda Sex (Title of new book, where the people have sex twice a year like the Pandas), are you? How much sex are you having?" One would NEVER consider asking that question to a female "western" author or a male author, not to say it was utterly inappropiate to begin with.
As well as for about ten minutes the moderator pretty much obsessed about "SEX" (he would shout it so excited he was.) "So.. was the SEX you write about the book real? Did you have sex like that coz you know.. I mean, I can't get over how honest you are in this book about SEX. I love the way you are talking about Shanghai girls having SEX with western boys, and Shanghai girls having SEX with Shanghai boys, and writing about how much SEX you were having. I mean at that time in Shanghai we were all having SEX. But it was hard to even get a hotel room.. etc. etc. etc." By this time I honestly considered walking out because I wanted to know more about her book and really nothing what-so-ever about her or the moderator's SEX life.
It was a bit painful because Mian Mian said a few times, "This is me six years ago. It's not me now. I wrote that book when I as a girl." And I felt if she knew the phrase in English, she would say, "I think I want to be considered a serious writer now that I am older."
And the whole repeated question thing occurred here as well. Mian Mian was asked what she wants to say about Shanghai, what it is about Shanghai, what's so special about Shanghai, Shanghai in the nineties, and her reply was always, "The book is not about Shanghai. It is only a setting. I am interested in the story and the characters."
I think it's really rude to assume that writers write about their own country to tell the western audience about their own culture. Most writers write because they want to tell a story and are not thinking of the off chance someone might translate the book for them in a foreign language. Which is what all the writers kept repeating but it seemed to just fly over the "western" audience's head.
It's really incredible to watch how an audience can make a talk of a world famous author all about themselves rather than about the book or the author.
Actually, it was embarrassing because I think some of the authors looked quite annoyed by those questions as anyone would when they are posed the same question over and over again.
I think I will trek to Chinese U to see Su Tong speak in Put Tong Hua, leaving a mostly Chinese audience who might actually find what he writes, and who he is far more interesting than how he sees the west seeing him.
This is something i have always said about this blog, I don't write it for the westerners of Hong Kong, not matter how much they seem to think. I don't write it so some people in Europe can know about Asia, I surely don't write it because I want to tell the world about my culture. I do want more people to understand the issues of free speech in China and democracy in Hong Kong, but those things are not about a people or a culture. It's about rights and idealism, it's about something bigger than ourselves and really I do it because I want to. I am still never quite sure why people read it.
Otherwise everything else I write outside of that topic is because I want to explore these ideas or thoughts and not because I need to do any "translating" for "westerners" about China or Hong Kong. If people get something out of it great. I write this because these are the thoughts and ideas I have in my head and want to express irregardless of the "exact" audience. If I was forced to choose some group, I write for the other Chinese readers in English, abroad and here, hoping that I may speak something that resonates with them or interest them. I write because that's what I have to do for myself and I think that can be said by the majority of Chinese writers if not most writers in any culture as well.
Take what one can from the written word but do not expect it was written for you or with you in mind.