SHENG KEYI IS a Chinese writer who grew up in Huaihua Di, a poor and isolated village of the Hunan province, on the banks of the Lanxi River. Sheng was sixteen years old in 1989, when student protests were violently suppressed at Tiananmen Square; like most Chinese citizens, she was introduced to the events through the government’s opaque re-telling on televised news media. Almost twenty-five years later, Sheng is a successful, translated novelist writing about Chinese society in a way that complicates that patriotic gloss. A denizen of Beijing’s literary circles, Sheng is reputed for her socially engaged writing and bold experimentation with form. Following her highly acclaimed Northern Girls (Penguin, 2012), which won a host of literary prizes and was shortlisted for the Man Asia Literary Prize, Sheng has recently had a second novel published in English, Death Fugue, which looks critically at the continuing impact of the government’s response to Tiananmen Square on the Chinese psyche and spirit – particularly people’s capacity for poetry and creativity. Though the manuscript was barred from publication in China, Death Fugue found a publisher in Australia last year with Giramondo. In it, Sheng uses both allegory and fantasy to contrast what China has become with what she imagines China could be. Her speculative projections for an alternative China also characterise her most recent short story, ‘A Little Life’, published in this issue of Griffith Review. For Sheng, it is this capacity to re-imagine contemporary reality that makes fiction writing a meaningful pursuit.
How did the reform of China’s economy affect your village and your decision to leave it?
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