Yan Lianke

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Yan Lianke
Yan Lianke in 2010
Yan Lianke in 2010
Born (1958-08-24) August 24, 1958 (age 64)
Henan, China
Alma materHenan University; People’s Literature Army Arts College
Genrefiction, prose, script, literacy theory
Notable awardsLu Xun Literary Prize, Franz Kafka Prize
SpouseZhai Lisha
ChildrenYan Songwei
Yan Lianke
Traditional Chinese閻連科
Simplified Chinese阎连科

Yan Lianke (Chinese: 阎连科; born August 1958) is a Chinese writer of novels and short stories based in Beijing. His work is highly satirical, which has resulted in some of his most renowned works being banned in China.[1] He has admitted to self-censorship while writing his stories in order to avoid censorship.[2]

His novels include Serve the People!, Lenin's Kisses, and Dream of Ding Village. He has also published more than ten volumes of short stories.

Yan won the Franz Kafka Prize in 2014 and has been shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize twice. His style is described as experimental and surreal, employing a self-described "mythorealism".[3]


Yan Lianke was born in Song County, Henan Province, China. Though he lives in Beijing, he has said that his heart remains in Henan, and he has based numerous works on life in Henan, including Dream of Ding Village. He entered the army in 1978. He graduated from Henan University in 1985 with a degree in politics and education. In 1991, he graduated from the People's Liberation Army Art Institute with a degree in Literature.

His childhood house was demolished by a farmer who believed that Yan's offers of money were bad faith attempts to lowball the true value, and he demolished the house in hopes of raising the land value, not realizing that the value came from the structure being Yan's house.[3]

Literary career[edit]


He published his first short story in 1979. He has published 14 novels and over 40 short stories.

His early writings are mostly Realist pieces heavily influenced by 19th century Realism. But towards the end of the 1990s his style displayed a major change. His subsequent works are more infused with wild imagination and creative allegories. His sometimes myth-like dramatic plots are often allegorical depictions of the human conditions.

A number of his fictions are set in the natural environment of Balou Mountain. It has become the most important setting of Yan's literary world, and the most noted fictional landscape created in Chinese literature. This is particularly true with the publication of the “Balou Mountain Series” comprising The Passing of [Riguang liunian], Hard as Water [Jianying rushui] and Lenin’s Kisses [Shouhuo] around 2000. The depictions of Chinese history and reality in these novels are characterised by a sharp edge which is simultaneously profound, absurd and carnivalesque. Yan's protagonists are strange in behavior, and psychologically twisted and complex. This represents another major change in Yan's style from his earlier works. They often provoke surprise in his readers and critics, and debates and controversies at the time of their publication.

Yan became “sensitive” in China at the time of publication of Lenin’s Kisses. He openly challenged what he described as Realism of the spirit(s) [Shengshi zhuyi], and advocated for a return to “a realism that transcends reality”. This has revived the prolonged debate in the Chinese literary circles on Realism. In France, the French translation of Lenin’s Kisses has also received critical acclaim. Its translations in other languages have been equally popular. A writer of Le Monde rates Yan's writings highly, and rates him one among the great writers in the world. The same writer suggests that Yan distinguishes himself with his sophisticated insights on the society expressed in his fictions, and that his writings often shows a devastating humour. The Guardian describes him as a master of satire with a rich imagination. Vanity Fair (Italy) notes Yan's mastery in writing between magic and reality..The Frankfurt Christian Science Monitor suggests that Yan possesses both the talent for writing great works and the courage to confront difficult issues. The Japanese magazine The World considers Yan and his writings important setters of standard for Chinese literature and freedom of expression.

The bans imposed on Serve the People and Dream of Ding Village garnered him notoriety.

The Four Books was published in 2011 in Taiwan. It was also around the same time when he advocated a Realism of the spirit(s) [Shengshi zhuyi], purporting that Chinese literature should represent “the invisible reality”, “the reality that is covered up by reality”, and “the non-existing reality”. This advocacy in the construction of an “absolute reality” is put into practice in his own novels The Explosion Chronicles and The Dimming Sun. The characters in these works are “Chinese through-and-through”. Their plots are depictions of a reality that is “Chinese through-and-through”, but filled with imaginative “possibilities” and “mytho-realist” “impossibilities”, which express his vision of his China being a “dark”, “desperate” place where the idea of “future” only brings “anxieties”.

These works are his practice of his avowed aspiration in Discovering Fiction [Faxian xiaoshuo] to create a Chinese literature endowed with the modern spirit of world literature, and differentiate themselves from Western Surrealism, Absurdism and Magical Realism, and that is modern and belongs to the East. In this sense, Yan can be appreciated as a writer of world literature. His novels Serve the People, Dream of Ding Village, Lenin’s Kisses, The Four Books and The Explosion Chronicles have been translated into a number of languages and distributed widely in the Americas, Europe and the Australia. Almost all these translations have attracted attention and critical acclaim for the novels in their respective literary markets. Further, The Explosion Chronicles extended its fame to Africa, being shortlisted with Carlos Rojas' English translation for the GPLA 2017.[4]

In terms of the contents, Yan's fictions have all shown tremendous anxieties in his vision of “the Chinese people”, Chinese reality and history. In terms of generic treatment, every one of his novels has displayed a new structure and linguistic style. To many it is his diverse styles, his readiness to break norms, and his capacity to create new literary norms that have differentiate him from other Chinese writers. It is in this connection that he describes himself as “a traitor of literary writing”. His is a pioneer of 20th Century Chinese literature, and is the only Chinese writer who has gained international acclaim without any support, either strategic or financial, of the Chinese Government.

Literary criticism[edit]

Yan is the only contemporary Chinese creative writer who has systematically published critical appreciations of 19th and 20th century literatures. These include numerous speeches and dialogues he has given and participated in around the globe, and various pieces of theoretical writings. They are collected in My Reality, My -ism [Wode xianshi, wode zhuyi], The Red Chopsticks of the Witch [Wupo de hong kuaizi], Tearing Apart and Piling Up [Chaijie yu dieping], Selected Overseas Speeches of Yan Lianke [Yan Lianke haiwai yanjiang ji], and Silence and Rest [Chenmo yu chuaixi]. In these works he expresses in detail his understanding of Chinese literature, world literature, and the changes literature has gone through in the past decades. His 2011 publication Discovering Fiction [Faxian xiaoshuo] is an exegesis of his re-discovery of 19th and 20th century Chinese literature and world literature. The book is characterised by his personal style of argument and rationality. It is also in this book that he advocates the differentiation of “full causal relations”, “zero causal relations”, “half causal relations” and “inner causal relations” in the plots of fiction. He considers this a “new discovery” of fiction writing, and designates it a “Mytho-realism” of Chinese literature. This is the first attempt from a Chinese writer active in the international literary circles to contribute to the theoretical discussions of Realism in the global context. This view of his has been discussed in the academe internationally.

In 2016 Yan was appointed Visiting Professor of Chinese Culture by the Hong Kong University of Science Technology to teach writing courses. The course material is collected in Twelve Lectures on 19th Century Writings and Twelve Lectures on 20th Century Writings. They contain his analyses of and arguments about the most influential writers of world literature in the 19th and 20th centuries. Of the two Twelve Lectures on 20th Century Writings is more influential, since it represents an attempt of a Chinese writer to review and research on in a comprehensive manner the dissemination and impacts of 20th century world literature on China. It can be used as a research reference or a writing guide.

In the area of critical and theoretical writings, Yan Lianke is the most prolific and vocal among contemporary Chinese writers. Not all writers and critics agree with his views, but he is widely recognised as being unique among contemporary Chinese writer in terms of his persistence in reflecting on methodologies of creative writing.


Yan's body of creative works include not only fiction, but also a number of lyrical essays which read in contrast to his fiction. While his fiction is characterized by an acute sense of contemporaneity, rich imagination and a compelling creative impulse, his essays are characterised by a conventional aesthetic of the Chinese essay which comes across as gentle, lyrical, and showing much finesse.

His long essay My Father’s Generation and Me [Wo yu fubei], House No.711 [711 hao yuan] and his other collections of essays mostly depict the daily life of the Chinese people, and nature in the four seasons, in a lyricism that comes across familiar to Chinese readers. The styles of his fiction and that of his essays are so different that it is difficult to reconcile them as the same body of works by a single writer. His non-fiction works have created an image of the author in both positive and negative light, so that the author becomes a figure who is rich and multi-faceted in his personality.


Serve the People![edit]

Set during the Cultural Revolution, at the peak of the cult of personality of Chairman Mao, the novel tells the story of an affair between the Liu Lian, the wife of a powerful military commander, and a young soldier, Wu Dawang. The two lovers discover that destroying objects related to Chairman Mao, such as the little red book, is a sexual kink for them. The book is a commentary on the choices people were forced to make during the Cultural Revolution.[1]

The title is a reference to a phrase originally coined by Mao Zedong in a 1944 article of the same name that commemorated the death of the red army soldier Zhang Side. During the Cultural Revolution, this article was required reading for millions of Chinese, and the slogan was widely used. Due to the sex scenes and political content, the story attracted controversy when it was featured the magazine Huacheng in 2005. The Chinese government ordered the publisher to recall all 40,000 copies of the magazine, which in turn created huge demand for the novel.[1]

Dream of Ding Village[edit]

Yan's novel Dream of Ding Village (丁庄梦) is a novel about people with AIDS trying to survive with little outside help. Yan visited AIDS sufferers and even lived with villagers for periods of time to make sure the novel was accurate. Dream of Ding Village has been compared with Albert Camus' The Plague (1947). Dream of Ding Village was published in Hong Kong in 2006, where it was again banned by the Chinese government for its content.

Other major works[edit]

Yan started publishing in 1979. So far the body of works he has produced includes 15 novels, more than 50 novellas, more than 40 short stories, 3 extended essays, 5 collection of essays, 6 collections of literary criticisms, and about a dozen TV and film scripts, amount to over 10 million Chinese characters. However, because of both the controversial nature of and the Chinese government's ban on his works, a considerable part of this body of works has not been published in China. These include the novels Serve the People [Wei renmin fuwu], Dream of Ding Village [Dingzhuang meng], The Four Books, [Sishu], The Dimming Sun [Rixi], and a range of his essays and speeches. Many of his works have been translated and circulated in more than 30 languages including English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Czech, Hungarian, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Mongolian and Portuguese.



Year Original Title Title
1991 情感獄 The Hell of Feelings
1993 最後一名女知青 The Last Female Educated Youth
1995 生死晶黃 Crystal Yellow in Life and Death
1997 金蓮,你好 How are You, Pan Jinlian
1998 日光流年 The Passage of Time
2001 堅硬如水 Hard as Water
斗雞 Cock Fight
穿越 Transgression
2004 受活 Lenin’s Kisses
2005 為人民服務 Serve the People
2006 丁莊夢 Dream of Ding Village
2008 風雅頌 The Odes of Songs
2010 夏日落 Summer Sunset
2011 四書 The Four Books
2013 炸裂志 The Explosion Chronicles
2015 日熄 The Day the Sun Died
2018 速求共眠 Want to Sleep Together Quickly

Collections of novellas and short stories[edit]

Year Original Title Title
1992 鄉里故事 Stories of the Neighbourhood
1994 和平寓言 Peace Allegory
1995 朝着天堂走 The Road to Heaven
1996 閻連科文集﹙5卷﹚ Collected Works of Yan Lianke (5 volumes)
1997 閻連科小說自選集 Collected Stories by Yan Lianke
1998 歡樂家園 Happy Home
1998 黄金洞 The Golden Cave
1999 陰晴圓缺:重說千古淫婦潘金蓮 Waxing and Waning: A Second Look on the Legendary Slut Pan Jinlian
2000 朝著東南走 To the Southeast
2001 耙耧天歌 Marrow
2002 三棒槌 The Hammer
2002 鄉村歲月 Days in the Village
年月日 Years, Months, Days
2003 當代作家文庫 閻連科卷 Works by Contemporary Writers: Yan Lianke
2005 天宮圖 The Map of Heaven
2006 革命浪漫主義:閻連科短篇小說代表作 Revolutionary Romanticism: Representative Short Stories of Yan Lianke
母親是條河 Mother is a River
2007 瑤溝人的夢 Dream of the People of Yao Valley
閻連科文集﹙12卷﹚ Works by Yan Lianke (12 volumes)
阎连科作品精选集(17卷) Representative Works of Yan Lianke (17 Volumes)
2009 四號禁區 No. Four Restricted Zone
天宮圖 The Map of Heaven
朝着東南走 To the Southeast
2010 閻連科小說精選集 Representative Works of Yan Lianke
桃園春醒 Awaking in the Cherry Garden
2011 藝妓芙蓉 :閻連科中篇小說編年 1988-1990﹙第1輯﹚ Geisha Blossoms: Novellas by Yan Lianke (Volume One) 1988-1990
中士還鄉 :閻連科中篇小說編年 1991-1993﹙第2輯﹚ The Scholar Returns: Novellas by Yan Lianke (Volume Two) 1991-1993
耙耬山脉 :閻連科中篇小說編年 1993-1996﹙第3輯﹚ Balou Mountains: Novellas by Yan Lianke (Volume Three) 1993-1996
桃園春醒:閻連科中篇小說編年 1996-2009﹙第4輯﹚ Awaking in the Cherry Garden: Novellas by Yan Lianke (Volume Four) 1996-2009
2013 閻連科短篇小說精選 Representative Works of Yan Lianke
2014 黑白閻連科——中篇四書﹙四卷﹚ Yan Lianke in Black and White: Novella in Four Books (4 volumes)

Collections of essays[edit]

Year Original Title Title
1999 褐色桎梏 Brown Shackles
2002 返身回家 Homeward Bound
巫婆的紅筷子:作家與文學博士對話錄﹙與梁鴻合著﹚ The Witch’s Red Chopsticks: A Dialogue between a Writer and a Literature Ph.D. (Co-authored with Liang Hong)
2005 没有邊界的跨越:閻連科散文 Transgression without Borders: Essays by Yan Lianke
2008 土黄與草青:閻連科親情散文 Yellow Earth and Green Grass: Yan Lianke’s Essays on Family and Feelings
機巧與魂靈:閻連科讀書筆記 The Wit and the Soul: Yan Lianke’s Reading Notes
拆解與疊拼:閻連科文學演講 Deconstruction and Juxtaposition: Speeches on Literature by Yan Lianke
2009 閻連科散文 Essays by Yan Lianke
我與父輩 My Father's Generation and I[3]
2011 我的現實,我的主義:閻連科文學對話錄﹙與張學昕合著﹚ My Reality, My -isms: A Dialogue with Yan Lianke on Literature (co-authored with Zhang Xuexin)
走着瞧 Let’s Go and See
發現小說 Discovering Fiction
2012 711 號園 No. 711
一派胡言:閻連科海外演講集 A Load of BS: Yan Lianke’s Overseas Speeches
2013 閻連科散文 Essays by Yan Lianke
寫作最難是糊塗 The Most Difficult Thing about Writing is to Stay Confused
他的話一路散落 His Words Scatter on the Way
一個人的三條河 感念 Thoughts by One Person on Three Rivers
2014 走在別人的路上:閻連科語思錄 Walking on Other People’s Path: Reflections of Yan Lianke
黑白閻連科——散文四書﹙四卷﹚ Yan Lianke in Black and White: Essays in Four Books (4 volumes)
沉默與喘息:我所經歷的中國文學 Silence and Rest: Chinese Literature in My Experience
2015 兩代人的十二月﹙與蔣方舟合著﹚ December of Two Generations

Translated works[edit]

This is a partial list of Yan's novels.

Original publication English publication
Title[5] Year Title Translator(s) Year
Riguang Liunian
2004 N/A N/A N/A
Shou Huo
2004 Lenin's Kisses Carlos Rojas 2012
Wei Renmin Fufu
2005 Serve the People! Julia Lovell 2008[6]
Ding Zhuang Meng
2006 Dream of Ding Village Cindy Carter 2011
Jianying Ru Shui
2009 N/A N/A N/A
Si Shu
2011 The Four Books Carlos Rojas 2015
Zhalie Zhi
2013 The Explosion Chronicles Carlos Rojas 2016[7]
2015 The Day the Sun Died Carlos Rojas 2018

Awards and honours[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Toy, Mary-Anne (2007-07-28), "A pen for the people", The Age, archived from the original on 2016-03-04, retrieved 2010-04-28
  2. ^ Cody, Edward (2007-07-09), "Persistent Censorship In China Produces Art of Compromise", Washington Post, archived from the original on 2017-02-26, retrieved 2010-04-28
  3. ^ a b c Fan, Jiayang (2018-10-15). "Yan Lianke's Forbidden Satires of China". The New Yorker. Archived from the original on 2018-11-01. Retrieved 2021-04-10.
  4. ^ GPLA 2017 Finals: Camer.be Archived 2021-04-19 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ "Yan Lianke". Paper Republic. Archived from the original on 9 June 2016. Retrieved 16 June 2016.
  6. ^ Shaikh, Ian (May 2, 2008). "and the [censored] was Mao". international.ucla.edu. Archived from the original on 2021-12-19. Retrieved 2021-12-18.
  7. ^ "The Explosion Chronicles". Grove Atlantic. Archived from the original on 12 August 2016. Retrieved 16 June 2016.
  8. ^ "2005亞洲週刊十大好書揭曉 .章海陵". Archived from the original on 2019-06-09. Retrieved 2008-09-24.
  9. ^ ČTK (2014-05-26). "Cenu Franze Kafky letos dostane čínský prozaik Jen Lien-kche". České noviny (in Czech). Archived from the original on 2014-05-27. Retrieved May 27, 2014.
  10. ^ "Agravox.fr". Archived from the original on 2018-04-04. Retrieved 2018-04-04.
  11. ^ "The Man Booker International Prize 2017 Longlist Announced | The Booker Prizes". thebookerprizes.com. Archived from the original on 2019-10-29.
  12. ^ "Yan Lianke wins Newman Prize 2021". 31 October 2020. Archived from the original on 12 February 2021. Retrieved 26 December 2020.
  13. ^ "Inaugural RSL International Writers Announced". Royal Society of Literature. November 30, 2021. Archived from the original on December 25, 2021. Retrieved December 25, 2021.

External links[edit]