MA JIAN (1953— )
MA JIAN (1953— ). Fiction writer and essayist. Born in Qingdao, Shandong Province, Ma Jian is one of the most independent writers in modern Chinese literature. Throughout his career, Ma has been noted for his defiant acts against authority. In the early 1980s, he attracted the government’s attention for his nonconformist paintings and “freewheeling” lifestyle. He took his vows in 1983 with the Beijing Buddhist Association. The following year he quit his job as a photojournalist for the state-owned magazine, Chinese Workers, to travel to Tibet through the Chinese hinterland. He came to prominence in 1987 with the publication of his controversial “Liangchu ni de shetai huo kongkong dangdang” (Stick Out Your Tongue) in People’s Literature, which partially caused the author’s eventual exile. The story records Ma’s close encounters with Tibetan culture, which both fascinated and horrified him. Unable to publish his work in China, he left for Hong Kong, and when the British colony was handed over to China in 1997, he went to Germany and later to England, where he still resides.
Widely reputed as a dissident writer, Ma believes that the soul of modern Chinese literature is a profound political consciousness and that the core of his own writing is a strong conviction in individualism and in the emancipation of the self. His works are critical of the lack of freedom in China and the debilitating effects of totalitarianism on the lives of ordinary people. Hong chen (Red Dust), winner of the 2002 Thomas Cook Travel Book Award, is an insightful and moving account of his three-year trek from Beijing to Tibet in the wake of a personal crisis that involved a divorce and a political purge. More than a travelogue, the book reveals the author’s skepticism about everything from communism to Buddhism. His novel Lamian zhe (The Noodle Maker) consists of a series of stories about people living in the shadows of an authoritarian government after the 1989 crackdown on the Tian’anmen Prodemocracy Movement. The tone of the book is satirical, targeting the bizarre and cruel realities in contemporary Chinese society. Based on the same political event is his most recent book, Beijing zhiwuren (Beijing Coma), a novel that centers on a student demonstrator who remains in a coma for 10 years after being shot in the head during the Tian’anmen crackdown. When he wakes up, he is faced with a country that has changed beyond recognition: a nation suffering from a collective amnesia about what happened 10 years ago and consumed with the pursuit of material wealth. The novel is full of black humor, a prominent feature in Ma’s work, mocking the absurdities and capriciousness in an oppressive society. Ma’s other fictional works include Yuan bei (The Stele of Lamentation), Jiutiao chalu (Nine Crossroads), and Ni la goushi (Dog Shit).