May 29, 2015

Xinran at AWF15: "Buy me the sky"

Auckland Writers Festival


Parnell Library’s Laura Caygill was impressed by Xinran’s storytelling prowess and contributed this guest post about the session.

I have been a fan of Xinran since my mother gave me a copy of the much lauded Good Women of China. When I was reading it she kept asking, “Have you got to the bit about periods yet?” This was a reasonably alarming question – but not as alarming as the actual revelations about how women in a particular rural Chinese community were managing that time of the month.

Needless to say I was hooked – here was a woman who was sharing eye-opening stories from the world’s most populous country, and doing so with intelligence and compassion. Having read more of her books over the years I had built up the feeling that Xinran could not be anything but wonderful in person.

I was not disappointed when she took to the stage at this month’s Auckland Writers’ Festival. From the moment she charmed the crowd into greeting her with a tentative “Ni hao”, to her graceful and warm-hearted responses to the audience’s questions, this was a lady well-practiced in the art of storytelling.

Her latest book, Buy me the sky, focuses on the impact of China’s one-child policy on the country’s parents and children, who are now having children themselves. The title comes from an interaction she witnessed between a small child, her mother, and her grandparents.

“Buy me the sky!” the girl begged.

The child’s mother said she would not, and was admonished for it by her elders.

“Don’t say no,” they said. “Say we’ll buy it for her when she’s grown up.”

China’s only children are, to Western ears and to Xinran’s own, doted on to the extreme. To the point where some, she says, are so protected growing up that by the time they leave home (often to study in Western countries like New Zealand) they might never have used a kitchen knife. They come to loathe their parents for what they feel is this betrayal of over-protection.

“In a material way they [have] everything, but in a family way… they have nothing.”

For anyone who thought the stories might have been far-fetched, the closing questions from the floor put paid to that.

One young Chinese man approached the microphone and declared, “It’s very interesting to hear you talk about me.” He had been living in New Zealand for five years and had recently graduated from AUT.

“Can you see our [generation’s] strengths and talents?” he wanted to know. “How do you imagine we can change our generation?”

In response she spoke of the expanded view of the world that younger generations have in comparison to that of their parents and grandparents. But, she said, they were still Chinese, and were still raised with a sense of their country’s deep culture and history.

“Because of these roots you will bring China to the world,” she said. As she stood proud on the stage in her brightly coloured silk jacket, combining old Chinese traditions with modern styling, she told the young man to be proud of his background for its cultural strength, not for its social policies.

“Go to see the world,” she said, “but bring your Chinese views and beliefs [with you].”

-- Laura

Ditulis Oleh : Karen Craig // 11:40
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