The Franz Kafka Prize

2014 - Yan Lianke

Born: 1958, Henan Province, China

Author's quote: "I write novels in the hope that through the honest exploration of my characters I can reach a larger, deeper understanding of politics."

Field: Fiction

Prize share: 1/1

Books Written By Yan Lianke

About Yan Lianke

Yan Lianke was born in 1958 in Henan Province, China. He is the author of many novels and short-story collections and has won China's two top literary awards, the Lu Xun in 2000 for Nian, yue, ri (The Year, the Month, the Day) and the Lao She in 2004 for Shouhuo (Pleasure).

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.

The phrase "Serve The People" was coined by Mao Zedong in 1944 when he wrote an article, "To Serve The People", to commemorate the death of a red army soldier Zhang Side.

In that article Mao said:" To die for the benefit of the people, is more important than Tai mountain; working for the fascists and dying for those who oppress and exploit the people, that death would be lighter than a feather. Comrade Zhang Side died for the benefit of the people, so his death is heavier than Tai mountain."

During the Cultural Revolution, this article was required reading for millions of Chinese; it was also one of the Three Old Articles. "To serve the people" became one of the most popular slogans of all times, even being used today. However, there was evidence suggested by author Jung Chang's book Mao: The Unknown Story, indicating that Comrade Zhang Si-De was in fact killed while processing raw opium when the kiln collapsed on him.

Yan Lianke used Mao's phrase for the name of his novel "Serve The People!", which contains vivid and colorful descriptions of sex scenes, resulting in extensive controversy when it was featured in 2005 in a magazine "Flower City". The Chinese government ordered the publisher to stop the release of 30,000 copies of the magazine, which in turn created huge demand for the novel.

The storyline is similar to D. H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover: the younger wife (32 yrs) of an old and impotent army general (52 yrs), begins to seduce a soldier (28 yrs), assigned to do the domestic chores for the general. During a three-day run of sex, the soldier runs out of energy. They discovered that when he smashes a bust items with Mao Zedong's image, he can get aroused again. Afterward they smash or deface all of the Mao imagery in their residence to prove their love for each other. The story's background, the Cultural Revolution, means the main characters are fully aware of the consequences of smashing Mao's statues: death by firing squad.

The novel was banned by the Chinese government at least partially because of its depiction of items related to Mao Zedong and political issues. It has been translated into French, Danish, German, Dutch, Italian, Czech and English.


Dream of Ding Village - Yan Lianke

By Mrs. C

Unique and beautiful story narrated by a 12 year old boy, based in a Chinese township. At the centre of the book is the rich Ding family with Ding Hui `bloodhead' who made the family wealthy by coercing poor villagers into selling blood. Initially the villagers prosper but the uncontrolled blood-selling results in the outbreak of AIDS. Eventually there are very few people left who are not infected. Life becomes meaningless in the face of greed and insatiable hunger for wealth. A novel of desperation and harrowing sadness, of destruction, of the last moments in life and desperation to preserve humanity at the face of death. The book stayed with me long after I finished reading it. It is not an easy read but would definitely recommend it.


Dream of Ding Village - Yan Lianke

By John Engamells

A wonderful book that gets under your skin. Well crafted and thought-provoking.

For the first 50 pages I thought it simple and simplistic and wondered if I was missing something across a cultural gulf or a poor translation. But as the plot developed and village life disintegrated in a way that even J.G. Ballard would have been proud of, I found myself drawn in to life - and death - in Ding.

The satire is biting and cruel, all the more so as it is recounted through the matter-of-fact voice of a 12 year-old who, being the son of the main villain, is non-judgemental. The reader is left to make up his own mind. I found myself laughing out loud at some of the absurdities, only to have to remind myself of the awful tragedy in the events being described. There are so many layers and levels to this book: the relationship between people and authority; people spending their lives obsessed by death and the afterlife; the real community spirit (real communism?) embodied by the grandfather running the school swept aside by officialdom and the disorder and corruption that follows; filial loyalty and betrayal; the mind-boggling cynicism of Ding Hui, which only gets worse when he becomes a `higher-up' in the city.