Before the release of his novel, Li Haipeng was already loved by many readers for the classical, musical beauty of his words. His articles combine a wealth of information with a sharp logic, and his essays mix humour with depth of reflexion, so much so that people were wondering how he would manage in the world of the novel.
“Late silence” starts from the the point of view of young Xia Chong, and describes his depressed, cynical and distant collision with the world. The style of the novel retains a classical beauty and a slow pace. The plot is flat, but the portrait of the protagonist is enough to make you see the changes in the fate of different Chinese people over these 30 years of change.
This is all immensely ambitious, but otherwise, as Li Haipeng says, there’s no point in writing novels. “Late Silence”, this first attempt, full of spirit, makes people discover a new possibility for Li Haipeng. He still continues his exploration, and climbs up his own mountain.
Questions: Tan Xufeng
Answers: Li Haipeng
Q: I remember long ago you said that, because you read so many classics, you found yourself unable to write. How did you later solve this problem?
A: I think many people have the same problem, don’t you find? The younger they are, the less experience they have and the less they read, the more easily they will write a novel. For them, the novel is a story. From very early on, I have found that making a story was a particularly easy thing, because designing a conflict has just one fondamental rule: if you want conflict, the conflict will come naturally 一共那些种类. So the story in itself is actually of no value whatsoever, it’s just about seducing people so they will be compelled to read on, this is not really worth doing, and since this is not really worth doing, if you leave that aside, what’s left? But that doesn’t make the seduction easy, what we’re saying is – it goes beyond that – if you only want to seduce readers, if your goal is only to become famous or make money, there are many ways to reach it, and there is no need to write a novel. And therefore the elevation of classics is very hard to achieve.
Q: What are the criteria? If the story is not the most valuable element, what are the other important elements?
A：You can basically say the following: being a completely compelling read is not the feature of a serious novel, but you can’t say that all serious novels are not a compelling read. Though it must be the case for 99% of them. For instance, to talk about the main points, the main protagonists are more important than the plot, and the book builds a complete world, rather than just recounting an event. For instance, in “Outlaws of the marsh”, all the characters are comparatively well profiled, and though we can’t really say that the plot is well constructed, it is undeniably exciting, and works like a chain, each link leading onto the next. But if you’re asking what kind of world does it build? It doesn’t, but “Golden Lotus” does, and that is the difference between two novels of diferent qualities.
In the preface of “Late Night Silence”, I wrote that, through the story of one man, I want to let all the stories of past ages surface on the paper. I find this view rather convincing. But at a fundamental level, of course, it’s impossible, it is a journey, it’s a difference. And there’s another standard of high artistic pursuit, and it’s not just a saying, the most important thing for a writer is to have their own voice, and that their voice is different from that of others, that’s very important, and that includes your concerns, your tastes, and your style of conversation.
Q: People say that you took a long time to write this novel, and still did not manage to finish it. So for you, is it a summary of the past, is it an evaluation, or a kind of farewell?
A: I think there’s this aspect of what you said, but it’s not quite clear, so how should I say it, all the people who like writing know about this, that when we have composed a text, past times do not fade away in vain, I think this is one meaning of what you said. In fact, it’s what people call retaining time, because you write it down, and you try to write it well, then your life falls onto the paper, and produces something like meaning.
Q: I think that in “Late Silence”, there is this musical beauty you talk about, and this includes an extremely well paced text, but everything you describe so beautifully, whether it’s the emotions, the story or the characters, all of it has a sense of depression and solitude, so what do you have to say about this opposition, what’s you view about that?
A: In literature and art, no matter what you write about, whether it’s something beautiful or ugly, no matter what the topic is, you must give your reader a sense of beauty. For instance, many of Picasso’s paintings depict very cruel scenes, but his pursuit is artistic, and it’s not because we paint a cruel scene, or paint an ugly thing, that the painting itself should not have beauty. The roots of the desire to write lie in the desire to create a sense of beauty, but generally speaking, this sense of beauty has endless numbers of definitions. And in this novel, one of these is the most common, or the most mainstream form of beauty, that is the musicality of the text, the precise selection of words, etc etc.
In fact, there are many other types of beauty. For instance, very simple sentences can also bring up a sense of beauty, and I haven’t said I would never write a novel in this style. I’m just saying that the desire to write in a certain way does not necessarily have to be in conflict with something else, and has nothing to do with the contents. As opposed to, for instance, the case of the writer who wishes to write about boring things, and writes a boring text, or writes about dull things, and the text also becomes dull, or writes about ugly things, and the text also becomes ugly.
However, there is a difference here, and the difference is that between the hero and the author. What the hero experiences, and how the author sees this experience, are two different things. The hero may experience unpleasant things, or very ugly things, but you as author don’t necessary need to adopt the hero’s feelings, and can actually look at the thing from two different angles.
Q: You’ve written about social issues in the “Southern Weekly” for so many years, reporting on earthquakes, river pollution, etc. etc. So what is your view about good and evil, beauty and ugliness in this world?
A: I think that the way the novel understands good and evil differs with the general understanding, for instance that of the philosopher, and mostly from the way today’s world understands it. There, ‘good; is about the greatest happiness and joy for people in general, it’s not my happiness, it’s not your happiness, it’s our happiness, the two of us at the same time.
But in the world of the novel, things can be more messy than that, it is based more on an understanding of human nature, it pays more attention to the individual, and many times, ‘evil’ has a face that can be understood, and ‘good’ a hypocritical side. If you look at Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel ‘The Remains of the Day’, the novel is about honour. Honour is something everyone understands, honour is a good thing, and only a person with a sense of honour will have a sense of shame, and only they can be a good person. People with no sense of honour don’t care about what others say. But Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel starts a reflection about honour itself. Because it is a cultural thing, not something that people are born with, 是后天教育结成的那种文化影响，所以他还是反思荣誉的这回事本身虚伪的地方。
In recent years, I’ve started to really appreciate Kundera’s novels “Farewell party” and “The unbearable lightness of being”, because his morality, including the way he looks at politics, and whether a person is brave or cowardly, and the way he looks at human nature, is all very mature, and I appreciate this. And so maturity allows us to look at things from a different perspectives, 大家都认为天经地义的那种观念，背后的那种虚无的地 方，I really like this.
Q: Creating a world in the novel, does it put a high demand on the world of the writer themselves? 因为现在的都市人普遍都在自我迷失的世界，更别说构筑自己的世界。
A: I’ve always thought that the so-called serious literary writer is not a random Mr such and such or Mrs So and So, that their expectations of life are not the same. 如果要求有名利，有各种虚荣心的满足，在普通的人类世界当 中滚滚红尘，甘之如饴，they’re certainly not a writer. There’s also a lot of writers who do care about fame and fortune, but when you look at their inner world, it’s only just a small part of it.
So for the writer to build a world, they must first have their own unique world, and whether this world is the same as that of previous writers or artists, it doesn’t matter, the important thing is that it’s not the same as that of ordinary people. 文学恰恰有一 点，文学本身来讲，像王小波说的，你们都是正常人，我反过来，我的世界有一个宏大的过程，水往高处流，兔子吃狼，树结果子要反过来。这就对作家有一个要 求，你心里得有反的那一面内心世界。For example Xia Chong, the protagonist of “Late silence”, he’s a fifteen year old boy, 成天特纠结的那个样子，觉得这儿也不顺，那儿他也看不上，他想 要的世界根本不存在。假如我们换另外一种思维去想，因为小孩嘛，没想明白，人生不就那么一回事嘛，长大就好了。But the problem is, if you’re a writer, or if you’re a reader of so-called literary works, you will then realise that things are not so simple.
Q: So for big city people, 人的秉性和长大的迷失是天生所具备的，还是因为这个国家、社会的外在影响是他成为那样？Because after all, I think that extreme changes in the Chinese social environment over the last thirty years have actually caused tragedy for many people.
A: If you say that the story of a person can reflect the time they live in, then the role of the novel lies precisely there, that the period can leave its mark on that person. We all know that people don’t just grow up naturally, but people are shaped by their environment. 他实际有不同层面，一个层面就是你说的这种，他整个的人生故事，不止夏冲，其他的人物也是这样。尤其夏冲母亲那个角色，更是非常明显，时代影响着她的命 运，那是直接干预，然后就改变了她的命运。夏冲还好一点，其他的人也是这样，都有这种影响。你跨过这个层面以后，还有一个问题，整个的人类生活，就有他跟 个人的意愿的那种矛盾之处，整个人类生活都有。
For instance, we now all believe that a free market economy and a democratic regime are rather good things. But if you think about the author of “The Catcher in the rye”; 他就是一个典型的左派形象，他并不是我们支持的那种 右派的，讲自由经济、自由政治的那种，他觉得全是假的，全是假模假式。而且他不仅仅嘲讽这些东西，文化也嘲讽，教育他也不满意，女孩为了表现自己的性感装 腔作势，他也不满意，这是没办法的。这是人生，难道你让一个女孩表现自己性感的时候不装腔作势吗？做不到的。整个人类，集纳所有人的智慧，还有比民主政治 更好的制度吗？没有了。
But Holden Caulfield still opposes it, and why does he oppose it? 人原初的愿望不是这样的。人原初的愿望就是我要自由的生长，不要用假模假式虚伪的东西，你不要侵犯我，我不想碰 你，你也别想碰我，我们俩玩球很高兴，比如踢球很高兴，你不要踢我腿，这是人基本的愿望。But can the world be like that? That question goes to another level.
Q: You said that in this age of limitations, writers could be influenced by their environemnt. For yourself, do you think this age is good or bad? And for your creation?
A: I would say that for writing novels, this is a particularly good period, because this period has so much material to write about, but it’s also very challenging, it’s not easy, it’s not so easy to see things clearly. And it’s not enough for us to just say “society now is like this and like that”, it’s not that simple.
For instance when we say “the country went ahead, the citizens went back”, how much ahead did the country go, and how much back did the citizens go, where is the data? Only the officials know the data, we don’t know, no-one knows, how much progress the country has made. We can only see national policy, and the expansion of State power, and then this process of erosion, step by step, but how this mechanism actually works, what detail power really derives from, how it is formed? We don’t understand. So we can only look at it from a distance.
But now, after all, it’s 2011, the times are changing, and this also creates pressure. 你比方说现在我写一个小说，我本身，无论我能写成什么样子，但是我有自己的报复、野心。那么我想 反映现在这个时代，过往的分析方法行吗？不行，方法已经过时了。你用凯鲁亚克的方法行吗？也过时了。Since the develop,ent of society is very fast, I think literary development is also very fast. If you use past methods to describe today’s life, you won’t be able to explain it. 你只是讲人们的纠结，左摇右摆，变得没有出路，这是不行的。This is also a particularly big problem, 实际上他到最后，他会非常得不 通融的结结实实地去要求你自己有自己的看法。或者某种程度上来讲要有独创性，但是这种东西非常非常难的。因为我们是写一个小说，可能学这个学那个，还未必 学得像。但紧接着要求有自己独特的声音。但是我宁可去试，试不好也没问题，你是需要努力的。For instance, let’s take two different mountains. One is the Xiangshan in Beijing, where if you take two hours of moving slowly, and take time to drink a bottle of water, and sit down halfway through, you can still get to the summit, and if you look at the altitude you climbed, you’ve gone 200 meters up. Now let’s go to the Everest: in two hours, you only go up 5 meters. But these five meters on the Everest are a more worthy climb. To return to the novel, if you write a simple novel, you may easily gain a lo0t of recognition, but there is a type of novel which is hard to write, and the more you want to write well, the more it is possible that your achievements will be small, but the more valuable they will be.
Q: For you, is the heritage of traditional literature important? And who has influenced you the most?
A: I think this a person question, not a writing question. And what I mean by a person question is, how does it influence your personality and your tastes? For that kind of frontal influence, the one who actually had the most influence is Hemingway. On many regards, now, my attitude puts me as part of the same strand as Hemingway. There is also someone who is very close to Hemingway, the Chinese poet Du Mu.
The two of them are actually similar in many ways, 首先他们俩有非常不引人注意的甜淡的那一面。Hemingway is generally considered to be a tough guy, but in fact, Hemingway is not a tough guy at all, and if you really look at his novels, they’re not of this type at all, Hemingway is actually a very sentimental person with a very rich sensibility. Du Mu is the same, and there is actually some similarity in their aesthetic sense. 你看海明威写的小说里，尤其短篇小说，他的视觉感，特 别喜欢用纯色，白象似的群山，山就是白的；他写猫，这个猫是灰的；他写大家点燃了篝火，不说别的，永远是非常简单的。然后你看杜牧的，他的诗里面，红、 白、绿、蓝，就是这种，没有别的颜色。再看李商隐就完全不一样，李商隐就是石榴红，他不写纯红。这些不同的美感，就显示出人的不同的趣味。纯色更鲜明、更 简单，颜色会更亮。海明威写《流动的盛宴》，他就写，打仗的时候在意大利，有一座桥，桥旁边有一个小镇，小镇里面卖野味的，挂着野鸡、野兔什么之类的，冬 天来了风就吹得摇摇摆摆，那感觉就像看见一个年轻人无辜的死去，他就直接来的那种，没有转折，根本不答理你。
“I’m the son of a farmer”
- 24 April, 2013 @ 22:51 [Current Revision] by julien.leyre
- 22 April, 2013 @ 16:20 by julien.leyre
- 22 April, 2013 @ 16:08 by julien.leyre
- 1 March, 2013 @ 12:30 by julien.leyre
- 4 October, 2012 @ 8:58 by julien.leyre
- 4 October, 2012 @ 8:57 by julien.leyre
- 9 June, 2012 @ 7:55 by julien.leyre
- 25 May, 2012 @ 15:11 by julien.leyre
- 25 May, 2012 @ 14:27 by julien.leyre
- 16 May, 2012 @ 9:59 by julien.leyre
- 9 May, 2012 @ 16:11 by julien.leyre
- 9 May, 2012 @ 15:57 by julien.leyre
- 9 May, 2012 @ 15:20 by julien.leyre
- 4 May, 2012 @ 10:27 by julien.leyre
- 1 May, 2012 @ 7:01 by julien.leyre
- 1 May, 2012 @ 7:01 by julien.leyre
- 1 May, 2012 @ 7:01 by julien.leyre