Your newest book, My Private China, is a remarkable glimpse into the vibrancy and diversity of China today. You’ve described the book as showing us, “the good, the bad, and the ugly,” of contemporary China. What was it about these negative elements that fascinated you into scrutinizing them the way you do?
I believe that one of the many responsibilities of serious writers is to look critically at the culture of their environment. The writer is in other words both a documentarian and critic simultaneously. Newspapers and magazines can only give us a partial understanding of an experience. This must be what the wonderful writer Simon Ortiz meant when he said, “If it’s fiction, you better believe it,” because the other approaches are incomplete at best and misleading at worst.
In this context then, I’m convinced we can tell as much about people by looking at their failures, shortcomings, and lies, as we can from their dreams and accomplishments, which can in turn also be grand lies.
What I’m saying then, is that there is something about serious literature that does not comfort us, pat us on the back to assure us that we are all right and believe in the same right things or that the sun will rise again tomorrow; it must challenge us, take us out of our comfort zone, shake us up and demand that we stop and start thinking about it in this different way, to do some mischief.