Big Picture: 'I Write What I Feel The Need To Write'
A Conversation with Yan Lianke, One of China's Most Acclaimed Writers
ZURICH, JULY 4, 2023 – Yan Lianke started out as propaganda writer for the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) aged 20 – and was released from his duties two decades later due to his satirical novels addressing issues and absurdities in modern China. He is a controversial writer of a genre he coined as "mythorealism" with the life of people living in China, often in a rural setting, at its core. His essays are outspoken, his fiction critical, causing some of his works to be banned in China. But both nationally and internationally, he has won numerous literary awards.
On his very first visit to Switzerland, Yan Lianke joined us for a reading of Xin Jing / Heart Sutra, his most recently published novel in English about the tension between religious belief and the state in today's China. The reading was followed by a conversation with Asia Society Switzerland's Exectuive Programs Manager Madelaine Wiebalck and sinokultur's Yunlong Song.
Yan Lianke was born in 1958 in Song County, Henan province. He joined the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) aged 20 but was expelled from the army for his fiction in 2004 after the publication of his novel Lenin's Kisses. He is also the author of numerous novels and short-story collections, including Serve the People!, Dream of Ding Village, The Four Books, The Explosion Chronicles, The Day the Sun Died and Hard Like Water. He has been awarded the Royal Society of Literature International Writer Lifetime Award, the Newman Prize for Chinese Literature, the Hua Zhong World Chinese Literature Prize, the Lao She Literary Award, the Dream of the Red Chamber Award and the Franz Kafka Prize. He has also been shortlisted for the International Man Booker Prize, the Principe de Asturias Prize for Letters, the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, the FT/Oppenheimer Fund Emerging Voices Award and the prix Femina Étranger. Yan Lianke teaches at Renmin University in Beijing and at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.
Madelaine Wiebalck studied Sinology in Zurich, Würzburg, Beijing, and Taipei. She headed a Master’s program in European and Chinese Business Management at the University of Zurich, and did two internships in Qingdao and Taipei. Since 2021, she works with Asia Society Switzerland as Executive Programs Manager.
Yunlong Song studied Arabic, International Relations, and Journalism at Beijing Foreign Studies University. Since 2001 he has lived in Switzerland, where he first studied Journalism and Film Studies at the University of Zurich, followed by Film at the F+F School for Art and Design Zurich. In 2010 he graduated with an MA in Film from Zurich University of the Arts (ZHdK). Since 2008 he works as a filmmaker and is active in intercultural communication services and cultural consultancy.
About Big Picture
Big Picture is a quarter-annual, public event series where we celebrate art in all its forms and shapes: Be it food, movies, museums, or literature. We invite artists, curators, and experts to talk about their practices and how these can help shed light on the world we live in. These talks are designed to further the dialogue and exchange across disciplines and regions and to travel beyond the events.