Sound and Silence

Yan Lianke

‘An acclaimed Chinese author discusses censorship, artistic independence, and the importance of good writing.

Yan Lianke (b. 1958), one of China’s most prolific and imaginative authors, has won global praise for his novels and stories. He is also an outstanding essayist, as this collection—which “arose out of a series of lectures that the author gave during a trip to North America in the spring of 2014”—amply demonstrates. Much of Yan’s fiction has a labyrinthine strangeness to it; in fact, one of the most interesting pieces here is his acceptance speech for the 2014 Franz Kafka Prize.

This tone and approach give him the latitude to be critical of government policies without being direct or strident, although much of his output has been censored anyway (he is often described as China’s most censored author). In several of the essays, Yan examines the Chinese government’s suppression of discussion about social traumas and policy failures in favor of relentlessly positive news. The result is a sort of enforced amnesia, and the author notes that the younger generation has little knowledge of the country’s real history. Despite his great concerns and the recurring themes of his novels, he does not like to be seen as an overtly political writer.

His desire, he writes, is to produce novels and stories that are well written and meaningful. Despite the age of these pieces, they seem remarkably fresh, timely and relevant, and the texts serve as a solid introduction to Yan’s fiction, as well as a clear-minded commentary on Chinese society and the place of literature within it. The volume includes an introduction by translator Rojas, who has worked with Yan for many years.

Yan’s insightful essays show how attempts to control history and society can be countered by memory and imagination. A brief but pithy, informative piece of work, representing a unique approach to history writing.’ Kirkus Reviews


  • Duke University Press, USA