IN CONVERSATION . . .
Although both Ma Jian and Xiaolu Guo fall under the rubric of dissident Chinese writers, they are very different people. Ma Jian is a 54-year-old man, while Xiaolu Guo is a 34-year-old woman. Ma Jian is Han, while Xiaolu Guo belongs to one of China's many minority groups. In addition, they have different styles: He is prolix and sweeping, while she is more spare, personal, mischievous. Neither writes purely political novels -- both light up their pages with warm intimacies -- but in this chat we stuck to politics.
-- Daniel Asa Rose
You each live in London, yet you both write about your homeland. Are you personas non grata in China?
MJ: My work has been banned in China since my first book about Tibet, Stick Out Your Tongue, became the target of an enormous government campaign in which all copies were destroyed.
So you can't return?
MJ: I can return, but I can't publish or speak out. It's a grey area: If I meet with someone there, they will be monitored.
Is it different for you, Xiaolu Guo, being a filmmaker as well as novelist?
XG: Yes, film censorship is much stricter than literary censorship. There are only 200 official films a year, so none of my films has been shown there. My art criticism and film theory were received all right, and my two latest novels [ 20 Fragments of a Ravenous Youth and A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers] will be published there soon. I'm not sure if the sex will be censored.
Is it possible to be a dissident writer within China?
XG: In name only. The party assigns you that classification, so those who call themselves dissident are actually part of the system. No independent stratum exists for a writer who wishes to speak out.
MJ: There is a tradition of artists being servants of the state, part of the propaganda machine. State-sanctioned professional writers have adapted to this situation; the way they survive is to avoid politics or write historical books, and even there, corruption will be confined to the lower echelons. They have no freedom to talk about China as it really is.