MA YUAN (1953— )
MA YUAN (1953— ). Fiction writer. After graduating from Liaoning University in northeast China, where he studied Chinese literature, Ma Yuan went to Tibet to work as a journalist. The experience proved to be pivotal for his literary career. Lhasa in the 1980s was a lively place of artistic fermentation, and in Tibetan culture Ma found the perfect launchpad for his fictional experiment.
Regarded as one of the most important pioneers of China’s avantgarde literature, Ma is credited for helping to turn the writer’s focus from what stories to tell to how to tell a story. His writings, inspired by Tibetan religion and mysticism, are among the most influential works from the 1980s. Reacting against the dictates of socialist realism, which had dominated China’s literary discourse for decades, Ma experimented with literary forms and narrative strategies, thanks in part to the availability of modern Western literature in Chinese translation, among them works by Jorge Luis Borges, which exerted a strong influence on Ma. He is noted for his labyrinthine narrative style, with the narrator, often identified as “Ma Yuan, the Chinese, who writes fiction,” working to expose the fictitious nature of storytelling. His texts have complex, multileveled structures, mixing the fantastic with realistic elements. Ma’s stories are concerned less with Tibet than with his personal vision of fiction and his Borgesian metafiction style accentuates a new awareness of narrative technique. “Lasa he de nüshen” (The Goddess of the Lhasa River), “Die zhiyao de sanzhong fangfa” (More Ways Than One to Make a Kite), and “Gangdisi de youhuo” (The Lure of the Gantise) are among his best-known stories. Since he left Tibet in 1989, Ma has made television shows and taught creative writing. Although he has not produced more fictional work, he has published two collections of essays, Xugou zhi dao (The Knife of Fiction) and Yuedu dashi (Reading the Masters), on his views on literature and his approach to creative writing.