Qiu Xiaolong

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Qiu Xiaolong
裘小龙
Qiu-xiaolong-silf2007.jpg
Born 1953
Shanghai, China
Period 2000-present
Genre Crime, poetry, translation
Notable awards Anthony Award for Best First Novel
2001 Death of a Red Heroine
Website
www.qiuxiaolong.com

Qiu Xiaolong (Chinese: 裘小龙, /ˈ ˌʃˈlɒŋ/; born Shanghai, China, 1953) [1] is an English-language poet, literary translator, crime novelist, critic, and academic,[1] who has lived for many years in St. Louis, Missouri. He originally visited the United States in 1988 to write a book about T. S. Eliot, but following the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, he remained in America to avoid persecution by the Communist Party of China. [2]

He has published nine crime-thriller/mystery novels set in Shanghai in the 1990s at the point when the People's Republic of China is making momentous changes. These include Death of a Red Heroine, which won the Anthony Award for best first novel in 2001,[1] and A Loyal Character Dancer. All books feature Chief Inspector Chen Cao, a poetry-quoting cop with integrity, and his sidekick Detective Yu.[1] But the main concern in the books is modern China itself. Each book features quotes from ancient and modern poets, Confucius, insights into Chinese cuisine, architecture, history, politics, herbology and philosophy as well as criminal procedure.

Life[edit]

Life in China[edit]

Qiu says he father was an "accidental capitalist": in the late 1940s the trading company his father worked for went bankrupt and as severence received a case of unsold perfume essence. His father taught himself how to make perfume and started a small perfume factory in Shanghai. The factory was transferred to the state in the mid-1950s, following the communist takeover of China, and thereafter his father was a manual laborer in a state-run factory. [3]

The Cultural Revolution began in 1966, and the family was branded as "black", part of the counter-revolutionary class. The Red Guard searched their home for two days, taking away anything regarded as decadent (jewelry, books, even electric fans); Qiu's mother had a nervous breakdown, from which she never really recovered. [4] Qiu's father came home at times with bruises from being attacked at work. Then his father suffered an acute retinal detachment and was hospitalized. In order to be eligible for eye surgery, his father had to write a confession of guilt for his capitalist bourgeois sins; but it was not deemed sufficiently repentant. So the teenage Qiu re-wrote it, using melodramatic language and framing his father's capitalist sins as no accident. It seemed to work, as soon after his father received his surgery. Ironically, Qiu says, "The Red Guard’s approval of my father’s confession gave me some confidence in my writing". [3] [5]

Qiu's older brother (Qiu Xiaowei), handicapped from childhood due to infantile paralysis, also suffered a breakdown during the Cultural Revolution, being unable to work or study (the schools all being shut down). The brother is still hospitalized, and Qiu makes regular trips to Shanghai to visit him. [6] He also has a younger sister, Xiaohong. [3]

At age 16, Qiu would have been sent to the countryside to be "re-educated", but was allowed to stay in Shanghai because he suffered from bronchitis. With schools closed, Qiu spent his time practicing Tai Chi in the park on the Bund; one day, he noticed people studying English on a park bench and decided to join them. [7] This interest in English grew into his academic specialty: he got a B.A. in English from East China Normal University (1978), an M.A. in English Literature from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (1981), and was an Assistant and Associate Research Professor at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences (1986 – 1988). [8]

In 1988, prior to a fellowship in the United States, he married his wife Wang Lijun. [4]

Life in the USA[edit]

In 1988, Qiu went on a Ford Foundation grant to Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, to work on a book about T.S. Eliot. [9] Eliot was born in St. Louis, and his grandfather founded the university.

But in 1989, Qiu and fellow Chinese academics were stunned to watch TV reports of the severe government crackdown of the Tiananmen Square protests. On July 4, Qiu was volunteering at a St. Louis fair, selling egg rolls as a fundraiser for Chinese student protesters, when he overheard a Voice of America broadcast describing him as "a published poet who supported the democratic movement in China." [9] [4] Subsequent signs suggested Qiu might have trouble if he returned to China: his sister was visited by the Shanghai police who told her "to tell me to behave myself"; and he learned that his latest poetry book, already at the galley stage, would not be published. So Qiu made the momentous choice to stay in the United States, and arranged for his wife to come a month later. The next year, his daughter Julia was born in St. Louis.[4]

Qiu enrolled as student at Washington University, and earned an M.A. (1993) and Ph.D. (1995) in Comparative Literature. From 1996-2005 he was an adjunct professor there.[8] He and his family continue to live in St. Louis.

Writing career[edit]

Qiu began writing poems in Chinese in 1978, studying under the poet, Bian Zhilin (卞之琳). [10] While an academic in China, Qiu wrote poetry and scholarly articles, [4] and translated work by the modernist poet T.S. Eliot into Chinese, including The Waste Land and The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. [5] Eliot has been a major influence on Qiu, both in his poetry and, more obliquely, in his detective novels. Eliot's "impersonal theory", as opposed to the romantic tradition, holds that the poet should not identify himself with the persona of the poem. Likewise, Inspector Chen of his novels has some of Qiu's traits but is not him, "embracing the tension between the impersonal and personal." [11]

With Qiu's 1989 decision to stay in the United States for political reasons, publishing in China became difficult and he began writing mostly in English. After Qiu finished his Ph.D. in 1995, he visited China again after a long absence. [4] He was impressed by the astounding social changes in the country, with newly-minted capitalists becoming darlings and old socialist norms fading. He tried to express some of this in a long poem “Don Quixote in China,” but was not very satisfied with the result. [12] So he decided that a novel was better for describing "this type of dramatic change -- you can call it 'best of times, worst of times'". [9] Never having written a novel before, and writing it in his second language of English, he latched onto the "detective story as a ready-made framework". [13] Thus was born his protagonist Inspector Chen Cao, like Qiu a Chinese poet and translator from Shanghai who studied English literature, but also a policeman. Qiu says, "A cop needs to walk around, knock on people's doors and talk to various people. This particular cop is very helpful because he's an intellectual. He's not only going to catch a murderer; he also tries to think what's wrong historically, socially, culturally — in what kind of a context did this tragedy occur?" [4]

Qiu's first Inspector Chen novel, Death of a Red Heroine, garnered him the 2001 Anthony Award for Best First Novel by a mystery writer [13] and The Wall Street Journal ranked it as the third best political novel of all time. It was based in part on an actual sex and drug scandal from the early 1990s. [4] Up to 2015, Qiu has written nine Inspector Chen novels. The early novels are often occupied with legacies of the Cultural Revolution. The series has tried to keep up with the continuing changes in China. Qiu goes back regularly to visit, watches Chinese TV via satellite, and reads Chinese newspapers over the internet. [4] The seventh novel, Don't Cry, Tai Lake touches on environmental contamination in modern China. [5] Discussions and revelations on Chinese microblogs (Weibo) inspired some of the eighth novel, The Enigma of China. [14] [15] The scandals and downfall of the high Chinese official Bo Xilai formed a basis for the ninth novel, Shanghai Redemption. [16]

In many of the Inspector Chen novels, Qiu portrays traditional Shanghai life amidst the old alleyways and also how it is rapidly disappearing with modernization. These are also themes in two of his other works: Red Dust is a set of short stories about the inhabitants of a small lane in Shanghai, spanning Mao's rise to the return of capitalism; Disappearing Shanghai combines intimate black-and-white photos of older Shanghai with poems by Qiu. [17] Qiu visits his old family house in Shanghai occasionally; frozen in time, it is filled with old carved furniture and devoid of plumbing (having instead a chamber pot). [14]

Books[edit]

Detective Chen series[edit]

Death of a Red Heroine, A Loyal Character Dancer, When Red is Black, A Case of Two Cities, Red Mandarin Dress, and The Mao Case have been adapted as BBC Radio 4 dramas, starring Jamie Zubairi as Chen and Dan Li as Detective Yu.

Other books[edit]

  • Lines Around China (poetry collection) (2003)
  • Years of Red Dust (2010)
  • Disappearing Shanghai (2012), with photos by Howard W. French

Poetry translations[edit]

  • Treasury of Chinese Love Poems (2003)
  • Evoking T'ang (2007)

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d "At Home Online: Interview with Qiu Xiaolong by Cara Black". Mystery Readers International. Archived from the original on December 20, 2003. 
  2. ^ Allfree, Claire (12 July 2007), "Author interview: Qiu Xiaolong - Refusing to join the Party", Metro, p. 23 
  3. ^ a b c "Qiu's corner: Confidence from the Cultural Revolution". qiuxiaolong.com. Archived from the original on July 20, 2017. Retrieved July 20, 2017. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i "The Case of the Shanghai Shamus". Riverfront Times. September 19, 2007. Archived from the original on July 19, 2017. Retrieved July 19, 2017. 
  5. ^ a b c Rick Skwiot (February 2013). "China’s Punitive Past Colors Writer & Work". Washington magazine. Archived from the original on July 19, 2017. Retrieved July 19, 2017. 
  6. ^ Rick Skwiot (February 2013). "China’s Punitive Past Colors Writer & Work: The Unlucky Brother". Washington magazine. Archived from the original on July 19, 2017. Retrieved July 19, 2017. 
  7. ^ Caroline Cummins (November 2002). "Qiu Xiaolong & the Chinese Enigma". January magazine. Archived from the original on July 19, 2017. Retrieved July 19, 2017. 
  8. ^ a b "Xiaolong Qiu". LinkedIn.com. Retrieved July 19, 2017. 
  9. ^ a b c Eddie Silva (June 7, 2000). "Chinese Puzzle". Riverfront Times. Archived from the original on July 19, 2017. Retrieved July 19, 2017. 
  10. ^ "Jonathan Stalling with Qiu Xiaolong". theconversant.org. Archived from the original on July 20, 2017. Retrieved July 20, 2017. 
  11. ^ Jeffrey Wasserstrom (September 30, 2015). "Shanghai Mysteries: a Q&A With Qiu Xiaolong". Los Angeles Review of Books. Archived from the original on July 20, 2017. Retrieved July 20, 2017. 
  12. ^ Layton Green (July 30, 2015). "Perceiving China Through a Poetry-Spouting Sleuth". The Big Thrill. Retrieved July 20, 2017. 
  13. ^ a b "Inspector Chen series is a reflection of evolving China, says author". Hindustan Times. Jun 17, 2015. Archived from the original on July 20, 2017. Retrieved July 20, 2017. 
  14. ^ a b Frank Langfitt (January 6, 2014). "In Fast-Changing China, Reality Can Overtake Fiction". npr.org. Archived from the original on July 19, 2017. Retrieved July 19, 2017. 
  15. ^ Edward Wong (December 24, 2013). "Q. and A.: Detective Novelist Qiu Xiaolong on Chinese Corruption". The New York Times, Sinosphere blog. Archived from the original on July 21, 2017. Retrieved July 21, 2017. 
  16. ^ Edward Wong (August 16, 2015). "Q. and A.: Qiu Xiaolong on His Novel ‘Shanghai Redemption’". The New York Times, Sinosphere blog. Archived from the original on July 21, 2017. Retrieved July 21, 2017. 
  17. ^ Rick Skwiot (February 2013). "China’s Punitive Past Colors Writer & Work: Disappearing Shanghai". Washington magazine. Archived from the original on July 21, 2017. Retrieved July 21, 2017. 

External links[edit]