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A generation with no theme

Reflections on young China – by 'Fred'


Ed: Something a bit different on the Anthill today. This week the US edition of Wish Lanterns was published, with a new cover, and an illustrated map by Beijing's own Liuba Draws. To mark the occasion, this essay on China's young generations penned by none other than 'Fred', one of the people I write about – a Party official's daughter and politics student from Hainan. I gave Fred a copy of the book of course, and she surprised me by writing this fascinating reflection on its themes, which I translate here with no edits except for style (so references to 'Fred' are about herself, in the third person). – Alec Ash


In the south of China, kongming lanterns rise into the night sky on the fifteenth day of the seventh month in the lunar calendar. In the twilight they drift ever higher, until they become just bright dots far away, hiding in a sea of stars. The ancients believed that these lanterns can illuminate wandering ghosts on their way home. Today people believe that the lights carry their wishes up to heaven. They are not kites, tied to earth by cords of string; they float with the wind, scattering in all directions, just like the protagonists of Alec's book.


Introducing Spittoon

Ed: A quick post to introduce a new magazine and writers collective in Beijing, before we get back to it at the Anthill. Spittoon just celebrated the launch of their first issue, and their poetry and fiction nights are always a treat. Founded by Matthew Bryne, who edits the mag with Simon Shieh, Kelly McNerney and Chris Warren, we're looking forward to future issues and encourage you all to follow them and submit (details below). In the meantime, they've shared a flash fiction piece and a poem in translation from the first issue with us, below.



Flash fiction by Ben Zarov


In the morning writing was easy for her. Words came naturally, crisper, and her sentences vibrated at a higher frequency than her evening writing, which was burdened by the weight of the day’s events (she had ceased to even try anymore). She had a routine that she had stuck to for eight years: begin with a letter to someone, anyone. She wrote to television characters, movie stars, deceased authors, old flames, loathed bosses and very rarely, to herself. She had written four complete novels and over two dozen short stories. She had sent none of them into the world and none of them were published. No one close to her knew she wrote. Sometimes, during the day, she herself was unsure. Her first book was a historical romance set in northern Mexico in the early nineteen twenties. She had written two endings for it, one tragic and the other fairy tale and she was unsure which of the two was right.


Wish Lanterns

A new book by Alec Ash


While we've been publishing stories from China by you, dear readers of our little colony, your humble editors have also been beavering away at their own writing. Now that fruit is ripe for the tasting. So gather around. That's right, it's time for some shameless self promotion and abuse of editorial privilege as I plug my own book.

On top of my own journalism, and anything else that keeps me in my noodles, for the last four years I've been germinating, researching and writing my first book, Wish Lanterns: Young Lives in New China. It's literary nonfiction, a deep dive into the lives of six young Chinese of my own generation, and it was published yesterday by Picador.

The book is very narrative in conception, and jumps between the six people I write about, telling their stories from childhood to mid to late twenties. There's Lucifer, an aspiring superstar (who was in Rustic for those who know it); Snail, a country migrant from Anhui who gets addicted to World of Warcraft; Fred, daughter of a Party official from Hainan; and even a love story, though I won't spoil the surprise by revealing which two characters meet each other halfway through the book.


Giveaway: A Yi's new novel (Bookworm lit fest special)


Those of you in Beijing will know we're in the middle of the Bookworm literary festival – two weeks of wordsmithery and ink hijinks. Look out for the Whisky and Writers event on Saturday 26th March at 8pm, which will pick up the bottle after the Anthill's Scotch and Stories boozefest last year, and where I'll be one of the writers reading a story. There have also been some great events showcasing Chinese writers, which is always what makes the festival special, from speed bookclubbing by the folk at Paper Republic to a panel with A Yi, who I've long thought is one of the most exciting authors in China today.

If you're not in Beijing, you can still feel a part of that conversation. A Yi's publisher One World is giving away five copies of his new novel in English, A Perfect Crime, to five Anthill readers based in the USA. All you need to do is write to colonyemails[at]gmail.com with your name and US postal address, and in the body of the email tell us what is your favourite book about China and why. The first five who get in touch will be sent a copy of A Yi's novel.

If you're curious to know more about A Yi read my Q&A with him in the LARB China blog. Also check out our top ten list of contemporary Chinese fiction for more inspiration for novels in translation.

That's all for now – regular posting will begin this time next week – and a big thanks to One World for this generous giveway. Now get reading, and hope to see some of you at Whisky and Writers! - Alec


Scotch & Stories (audio)


On May 27th at the Beijing Bookworm we held the Anthill's second writers night, Scotch and Stories. It was a sold out house (click the link for pics) and we've been drip-feeding the stories onto the hill (those links below). Now the audio is up on Beijing Cream. Big thanks to Anthony Tao for helping to organise the event, and to Beijing Cream and RFH for spreading the word (plus posting my somewhat controversial review of a sexpat memoir a few days before it). Bigger thanks still to all the readers and drinkers who made the night so special.

Without further ado, here's the audio, best listened to with a dram of whisky in hand: