Could Chinese rural literature conquer the West?
Updated 23:55, 21-Apr-2023
Jianhua Li in London

The London Book Fair is one of the largest of its kind in the world and is renowned for bringing together world-class storytellers and publishers. The three-day event is also where many renowned writers opt to raise their profiles by launching their new works.

Chinese award-winning author, Hu Xuewen, famous for his writings about rural China, launched his new book Hope and Life at the fair this week. The novel concerns a bed-ridden midwife  reminiscing on her lifetime, during which she delivers more than 10,000 babies.

Hu told CGTN that he has a preference for writing about women and Chinese rural transformation.


Zhang Zhilei wants Fury, Usyk or Joshua in Beijing's Bird's Nest

Could hydrogen power Germany's 'industrial awakening'?

Europe to join global semiconductor race

"Writings about rural areas are part of world literature," said Xuewen. "It's easier to create something unique when writing about rural life. But eventually literature should transcend that 'uniqueness.' To provoke the emotions of readers, the writings must go beyond the limits of borders, cultures and times.”

Hu added that he did not intend to cater for the taste of western readers, and did not think about winning a Nobel prize for literature.

Another award-winning novelist, Xue Mo, was invited to speak about female power reflected in his literary works.

Xue Mo has so far published 105 works and culture-themed publications, which have been translated into various languages, including English, French and German. At the Frankfurt Book Fair last year, Mo ranked No. 1 in terms of media coverage.

The author says rural life symbolizes "homeland," which has been significantly altered by various technologies due to the Industrial Revolution.

He said: "The most beautiful part of human society is rural life - the period before the industrial revolution slipped into our life. It was the feelings of peaceful, simple, pastoral and idyllic life. The main reason writings about rural life are popular is because human beings are nostalgic for those times."

Nicky Harman, who has translated some of Mo's works, says books like these have cross-cultural appeal.

According to Harman: "I think it's difficult for western readers to understand what living in a Chinese village is or was like. But it's always true that human beings and human beings from all over the world - the human experience - whether it's in a village or in a city, or a migrant worker, it appeals to everyone.”

That appeal is reflected in the success of many modern Chinese writers, including Mo Yan, who won the 2012 Nobel Prize for literature for his works which combine "hallucinatory realism" with folk tales, history and contemporary life grounded in his native land.

The UK is the birthplace of many notable writers, including William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, and George Eliot, to name a few. But there is an increasing number of Chinese writers taking their place alongside famous Western authors. 

However, Xue says it remains difficult for Chinese literary works to break into the western market, but hopes that will change in the future.

He added: "China's eastern wisdom, which is about finding inner peace from within, not from without, can help bring Chinese literature onto the bookshelves of western readers.”

(Cover image via

Subscribe to Storyboard: A weekly newsletter bringing you the best of CGTN every Friday

Search Trends