Shanghai International Literary Festival 2007: Shanghai Writers on Shanghai Writing [session in Mandarin, no translation] with Qiu Xiaolong, Chen Danyan.

Notes by Micah Sittig

Chen Danyan (CDY):

  • As a child, moved to Shanghai with her parents and had the "domestic immigrant" experience; like oil and water, being mixed in but never completely a part.

  • Shanghainese feel a local attachment to their district, like New York's boroughs

  • Remembers going to the City Temple (Yu Gardens) area and feeling like she was in a foreign place.

  • Going to the houses of native Shanghainese (including Qiu Xiaolong's), always noticed differences from my own house's furniture, food.

  • Writing started as a way to seek an understanding of the city and the local culture.

  • Summer of 1992 was first published writing (about native Shanghainese, their characteristics)

  • How do I feel about Shanghai? Love it, but...

    • Hate people destroying its history, experience (1930s Shanghai could be forgiven, but not today)

    • Hate commercialization, buy-sell attitude

    • Hang out among reproductions/antiques at Cafe 1931, wonder what modern Shanghainese are getting from that period (, maybe).

    • But maybe being loving/hating makes me more Shanghainese (as opposed to not caring).

Qiu Xiaolong (QXL):

  • How do I feel writing about Shanghai in English living in the US?

    • Makes me want to come home.

    • Although I may not live here, I feel like I have a certain "sensibility" for Shanghai. [MS: childhood + youth is formative]

    • Writing from a perspective, a thought pattern that is unique to the people of this city.

    • Chengyu are translatable, but not your feelings towards them.

  • Childhood

    • Studying English in the Bund Park; retired prof as mentor.

    • In the GPCR didn't go to the countryside due to 'illness'.

  • Question to CDY: What is it about 1930s Shanghai?


  • The dream of advancement, modernism; hope.

    • Not just commercial, material.

    • Even of being level with the rest of the world.

  • Maybe Shanghai's treaty-port legacy, the commercial spirit is inborn, but I don't like it.

  • Shanghainese need to affirm themselves, 市民认同自己.

  • Wish that Shanghainese would work harder on building culture.

  • To QXL: Bund Park and lover analogy (your lover gets old and ugly, what else can you do with her but love her; QXL smiles...) "Maybe he just hides his disappointment unlike me who speaks it openly."


  • (Gets real heated about the opening of a huge Beijing cuisine restaurant in the minuscule Bund Park, and the lack of benches.)

  • CDY, aren't you angry too?


  • Story of the huaqiao entering the Bund Park (CDY tries to get permission in advance from the Bund Park guard to let her and Qiu Xiaolong in during construction; she argues that although QXL has been in the US, he is still Chinese/Shanghainese; the guard actually would rather let QXL in if he is an outsider, due to his long absence).

  • Don't be angry, it's a choice.


  • Q: What Shanghai authors do you like?

    (QXL) Tomorrow's talk, poet Wang Xiaolong, black humor, post-modern, today's content in yesterday's form. (CDY) 赵长天 author of 《一个孤独的外来者》, about English-sent Shanghai Customs chief, demonized in Chinese textbooks, a sympathetic and fair treatment. Unbiased, so good.

  • Q: What modern authors capture historical change best?

    A: (QXL) CDY does! Not specifically her goal, but she does it in passing. (CDY) In the 新民晚报 (Xinmin Evening Post) every 2 or 3 Sundays there is an essay section; light-hearted essays by Xūn Lèi [MS: all pinyin is guessed] about Shanghai locals' daily life and attitudes.

  • Q: What do you think of Wǎn Yī, another "domestic immigrant" writer?

    A: (CDY) Writes about longtang life well. Also an immigrant, don't know if that's important to him/her. Indoctrinated by CCP, similar to 矛盾. (QXL) Sense of distance from Shanghai in talks by Wan Yi.

  • MS: defensive question by a Chinese] CDY, why do you like Shanghai? If you liked Europe so much, why did you come back?

    Q: [A: (CDY) Trip to Europe was an epiphany of being Shanghainese/Chinese. Germans asked: what do you say before eating? Realized didn't really know, only Japanese 'itadakimasu', then thought about it and realized that the simple 吃吧 is filial children being prodded by their mother to not wait for her, shows respect for elders. Childhood spent on Huaihai Rd and Wuyuan Rd. Spanish houses similar in Shanghai and Spain, but had differences that were uniquely Chinese. European trip piqued interest in own identity.

  • Q: What do you think of Wei Hui ("Shanghai Baby")?

    A: (CDY, tiptoeing) Lived on the same street as me, but thought-life was very separate. Big cities can be like that, containing very different people in very close quarters. Learned about Armani from her book; do people really like name brands so much? (QXL) Probably learned a thing or two. Worried that her book represents all Chinese young people to the world. (CDY) Just because a small population lives like that doesn't mean that all Chinese young people do.

  • Q: You both say that you are not real Shanghainese. Do real Shanghainese exist, and if so who are they?

    A: (QXL) Definition? When I was young, real 'locals' lived in Pudong and ate countryside food. Puxi and 'Shanghainese' food weren't local. (CDY) Song Meiling! Was from Pudong, spoke rough Shanghainese, Western educated, fashionable, loved the city, made her own way in the world... (QXL) 上海女人确实很厉害!