CHEN DANYAN (陈丹燕) spoke at the SHANGHAI BOOK FAIR 2008

(Based on my notes, based on my bad Chinese listening skills. Any deviation from what actually was said is MY BAD!)


  • The title of her newest book, 永不扩宽的街道 (Streets That May Never Be Widened) comes from the name of a policy promulgated by a city planner who became a fan of Chen's books when he was a lowly prof at Fudan University, using the "feeling" from her books to guide restoration of old homes beyond the physical parameters. Planners found that protecting buildings was not enough — when you removed the first row of alley-houses to widen the street you destroyed the environment and make the remaining houses look out of place. The list of those streets is in the Appendix of her book.

  • New book is influenced by a trip to Ireland in search of the setting of Dubliners, which she started reading after giving up on Ulysses for the n-th time.

    • She was amazed to find so many of the settings in the book still existed in the city (as opposed to Shanghai, where things are being torn down and built up at amazing speeds). Sitting in a coffee shop where Joyce set part of Dubliners, she was finally able to complete a reading of Ulysses.

    • Her time in Ireland was literary tourism, her new book is meant to preserve parts of Shanghai that may disappear, a "tour in literarure".

  • She described what she thinks of her responsibility as an author/citizen (市民)

    • Shanghai is an immigrant city, people come to it from outside and grow a sense of responsibility for the city

    • Her responsibility as an author is to record the city

    • Some people accuse the SH-nese of destroying what foreigners built up, and that colonial Shanghai was bad for China. Shanghai has a responsibility to make up for that.

    • A complicated and special city needs a history, she is writing history; has a responsibility to record both happy and sad parts.

    • Imagines Xiamen and Guangzhou have/should have similar literatures.


Who will write Pudong's history?
Sympathizes with the fast pace of change, makes a snide comment about apartments being better than farm fields.
Wonders what younger readers who haven't been around for the changes think about her work.
A young read answers: thank you for recording our childhood - before when you wrote teen lit and now that you write Shanghai lit your books have a 人情视觉 in common, a human POV. Gives a piece of advice: write about European methods of city preservation for cities who are about to make the same mistakes as SH. Question: what's next for you?
A book about Beijing (a sigh of disappointment is heard in the room, literally).
A book about nature as opposed to the city, natural geography as opposed to social/human geography.
Mentions a book of short essays that was supposed to be printed in Beijing recently, but because of Olympics-related logistics issues there was no paper. It will come out after the Olympics.
What about old houses that are getting bought up by Taiwanese and foreigners?
Foreigners ask to be taken to "real Shanghai" beyond Xintiandi, what does Chen recommend?
Taiwanese who buy up old houses have no respect for the cityfolk's memories of the city, board things up or fence them off. Nothing she can do, not rich enough to buy houses (snickers roll through the room — who hasn't had that feeling in SH lately?)
A mention of Bund 18, where Chen's father's office was located and which has been rendered completely unrecognizable by a recent interior "renovation".
There's not that many "real Shanghai" places.
The city needs to be guided in preservation not by the needs of tourists, not by what they want to see, putting culture on display like animals at a zoo (implying that the needs of the city's people for their childhood homes and lifestyles to remain intact is more important).
It's hard to say because different people have different needs/abilities in seeking out "real Shanghai". If a foreigner has been in Shanghai for a year and still goes to Xintiandi for "Shanghai" then there's really no hope (snickers all around).
The "real Shanghai" may not be exciting for tourists because it's just everyday life, beyond the nostalgic dancing halls, gangs, colonial stuff, etc.

She signed my copy to "Micah and Jodi"; she remembered the talk with Qiu Xiaolong last year when I mentioned it.

Another attendee's notes (Chinese)
A short blog post by yet another attendee!6EAAA216879254B2!743.entry