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Liang Hong x Daan Heerma van Voss: Complex Relations: People and Peoples, Past and Present

At 7:00 p.m. on December 6, Beijing time, the 27th event of the 5th China-EU International Literary Festival was held as scheduled. Dutch writer Daan Heerma van Voss and Chinese writer Liang Hong started a dialogue on the theme of “Complex Relations: People and Peoples, Past and Present”, and curator Zhang Weina presided over the event.


Daan Heerma van Voss (1986) is a novelist and historian. He has often been hailed as one of the front runners of his generation. He has written essays and articles for several national and international newspapers, such as NRC, Humo, De Morgen, Vrij Nederland, Das Magazin, De Volkskrant, Haaretz (Israel), Dissidentbloggen (Sweden), Svenska Dagbladet, PEN International, Vogue US and The New York Times. His novel Sunday Man was nominated for the Anton Wachter Prize in 2012 and The Land 32 was nominated for the Halewijn Prize and the Cutting Edge Award). Ultimatum was nominated for the Diamanten Kogel. He was also awarded De Tegel for extraordinary journalistic achievements. Showing Colours, his book on racism was bought more than 11,000 times in two days. His work has been translated in various languages, including Chinese.


Liang Hong, born in 1973 near Zhengzhou, Henan, in Liang Village, is a scholar, writer and professor at Renmin University of China. In addition to her book-length interview with Yan Lianke, The Witch’s Red Chopsticks(2002) and two works of literary criticism, Notes from the Outlying Provinces: 20th Century Literature in Henan(2008) and Diminishing Halo: The Evolution of Narrative in Contemporary Chinese Literature(2009), Liang Hong has also published two books of non-fiction about her hometown: China in Liang Village(2010) and Leaving Liang Village (2013). She has also published the novel Liang Guangzheng’s Light (2017) and The Four Forms (2020). Her many awards include the Eleventh Mandarin Chinese Media Award – annual essayist, the 2010 People’s Literature Award, the seventh Manjin Book Award and the 2013 China Good Book award.


This dialogue is closely related to the theme “Recovery / Reflection” of the Fifth China-EU International Literary Festival. At the beginning of the event, the host asked Daan a question about how he dealt with the conflict between the past and the present. Daan believes that the writer should show the conflict to the readers rather than solve the conflict. For example, in The Last War, he hopes to make readers realize that people always use the past as a perspective when interpreting some phenomena, but he does not find this. Liang Hong agrees with this. In addition, she mentions that some readers think that her Leaving Liang Village and China in Liang Village do not provide practical solutions to rural problems. However, she believes that it is also very important to make people have doubts about the countryside and feel the pain, conflict and existing power of the countryside.


When talking about the degree of freedom in the creation of fictional and non-fictional works, Liang Hong thinks that when “freedom” is defined as imagination, the creation of fictional works will naturally be more free, but if we start from the inherent freedom of creation, the two are the same. In her opinion, the creation of non-fictional works can help her probe into the inner life and bring her great pleasure. Daan believes that neither “progress” nor “freedom” is the purpose and coordinate of fictional and non-fictional writing, but only to let us have a better understanding of the world, life and others.


The host also asked Liang Hong how she dealt with the relationship between fiction and non-fiction in the novel Liang Guangzheng’s Light.


Liang Hong said that Liang Guangzheng’s character prototype is related to her father. On one hand, she has a lot of real material, on the other hand, she needs to extract elements from real life to serve her novels and themes. For Daan, because fictional novels are always exploring the unknown world, his writing process is full of confusion and uncertainty. However, because of the established writing objectives of non-fictional novels, there will be less confusion.


In the Q&A session, some readers asked Liang Hong whether people in her hometown had read her books and what kind of reaction they had. Liang Hong said that many people in her hometown knew that she had written Liangzhuang, and they were very enthusiastic and cooperated with her in the process of communicating with her. In addition, readers ask Daan questions for advice on young writers. Daan laughs that the only way is to write more and more till him find his own voice in repeated reading and writing.


The China-EU International Literary Festival has been held for four times. During the annual exchanges, Chinese and European writers have conducted in-depth exchanges and discussions on various aspects of life and society, presenting a series of high-quality ideological collisions. At the 5th China-EU International Literary Festival, many outstanding Chinese writers and writers from 27 European Union member states will continue the literary dialogue between China and Europe.


At the end of the event, the two writers expressed their thanks to the organizers and maintainers of the China-EU International Literary Festival and wished that this literary journey could go further and further and help more readers appreciate the beauty of words.


By Ming Ming

Translated into English by Helen Qiu