Monday, 28 March 2011

Julie O'Yang



Julie O’Yang is a novelist and visual artist based in The Netherlands.

Born and brought up in China, she came to Europe in 1990s to study at the University of London. Then she read Japanese Language and Culture at the University of Leiden, Holland, and Nagasaki, Japan. Presently she works as a freelance writer/ journalist for English as well as Dutch media. 

Her first novel BUTTERFLY is set against the backdrop of the Sino-Japanese War (1931-1945). Embarking on an epic-like journey, it centres upon the fatal love between a married Chinese woman and a young Japanese soldier and takes a stab at sensitive historical and social issues.

Contact Author at:

Five titles I’ve been re-reading the past week



Nabokov, Lolita. What else?
Borges, anything. Best thing about him is that you can turn open a page and start to read.
 Zhuang Zi (4th century BC). “We cling to our own point of view, as though everything depended on it. Yet our opinions have no permanence; like autumn and winter, they gradually pass away.”
Haiku as my lullaby, or
Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk: “Yes, terrible things happen, but sometimes those terrible things- they save you.”

A rose is a rose by another name

(The China Diary)

[...] Of all my guests, H. was the one I was dying to meet.
Born in the poverty-stricken countryside, H. became a hairdresser in her twenties, dreaming to work one day in the city, which she did. She opened her own hair salon only to discover what kind of a dream the city had to offer. These hair shops serve as brothels, but when H. refused to confine herself to carnal service, wanting to make a living by cutting others’ hair, she was doomed. To top it all she got pregnant by a man she fell in love with but who turned out to be a swindler. Nine months later she gave birth to a daughter, her reputation hung by a thread. She was an unwed mom who deserves nothing but shame and humiliation. Then, one day in her absence, the conman came to her house to steal away her child.
‘Where is your daughter now?’ I enquired. If I could I would have turned off the camera so we can have a real one-to-one, heart to heart.        
‘I don’t know – Gone – ’ H. answered distractedly.
‘Gone where?!’
‘His family doesn’t want me to be near her, they took care of that.’
‘But you can’t just sit and wait, can you.’
‘No. In fact, that’s how I became a documentary maker.’
H. is one of the most celebrated independent filmmakers at the moment. Her visual diary she made about her daily life and those around her, in an upfront, even confronting style had won her appraisal from audience as well as professionals.
‘I was drifting from place to place, looking for my daughter. A friend gave me a camera. “Film everything you see,” was his instruction. For two years I lived like a vagrant, my camera was the only person I talked to – through my eyes.’
And she was born with eyes of a master!  
Brave, gutsy, true to life and not shunning its dark side, the documentaries were scrupulous portraits of China never before seen. Every family has a skeleton in the cupboard waiting to spill out, but hang dirty linen in public is not particularly a Chinese penchant. Perhaps this is why the films found a way to the heart of millions. Where the official journalism fails she is willing to touch the wounds – and there are so many wounds that I wondered how we Chinese endured. How is it possible that people have lived through that kind of pain?
‘The Chinese soul is like a volcano,’ my guest observed. The soul-talking again. ‘I like the Fuji, picturesque curves rising towards the snow-capped top. But I don’t trust prettiness you know. I want to explore the innermost darkness. Ever since a child I prefer night-time hours, with a firefly passing by, and I would make a secret wish  – ’
‘And your daughter? Any sign of her?’
‘Nope. But I will keep searching until I find the light little as a firefly – ’     
I felt like the worst kind of crap after the day I spent with H. I wanted to call it off, my little game and all that.  At this moment he phoned – as if he felt. We used to have such bond – We still do.
‘You are not going to break my heart again, are you?’ He sounded sad.
I had let him down, like I did everyone else. And yet it felt as if the game we played had its own logic, it was a way to remain true to myself.
I didn’t find the third flower as I should. After searching the 20 square metres thoroughly, I crawled on all fours to the bathroom to find it in the half-filled washbasin. The paper was soaked, from which I deciphered the blurred, inky veins: V. 
I stared for a second. I had a hunch.

[...] My last guest was a Dutch businessman living in Shanghai. M. is the founder of Tudou, meaning potato. Chinese Youtube, five times bigger.  
Either he’s from Alaska or Fiji or Tierra del Fuego, businessmen share one obsession: numbers. M. and I talked about the unfailing lure of growing in…zeros. The more zeros one adds the greater weight one counts. 
‘Foreigner and Chinese media, does that promise a happy marriage?’ I requested, solemnly.
‘No,’ was the succinct answer.
‘Then what’s your little secret?’ I didn’t say dirty, little secret since I knew the answer to be.
‘Our daily censor team is a proven success.’
‘What’s unacceptable?’
‘Politics and pornography.’
‘Why pornography?’ I asked with feigned naivety. ‘Pornography seems to me an unproven success in today’s China…’
Whatever his answer it didn’t matter anymore. My mind drifted. How long is the claw of a dragon. Yahoo and Google were among the first to contribute to the building of the “Great Chinese Firewall’. Not only did they help the authorities to clean “undesirable” information, the defenders of free word collaborated in tracing unwelcome voices. During my brief visit, I noted a selection of websites from inside as well as outside China had been blocked since ages. Glory to technology, hooray to millions of slippery gold-diggers, soon we will be welcoming the Chinese century!
Upset and feeling fooled, I took a cab straight to the hotel. I thought I would board the first flight and leave, forever. Gazing out of the shabby Honda threading through downtown traffic, I realized, with a start, that all this time I had been fooling myself too. I told myself it was a game, but the truth is: I wanted to see him. Is my heart still longing for something we have lost? Do I still believe in the message he has been trying so hard to make it heard?
I took a dash to my room and picked up the flower from the made bed, whose shy perfume brightened my comatose interior. Among the scented petals I uncovered the fourth letter: E.
I put them in a row. L.O.V.E. – which I knew was a place. I knew from the very beginning that this is a metaphor.
His face silhouetted against the sunset over the purple Forbidden City, rapturously beautiful. Once upon a time we had walked here, hand in hand, we believed we will be young at heart forever.
We had met during the summer camp of our high school. Both of us were selected for the diplomatic class of a special university – We were to become spies. After the summer I turned the offer down, whereas he opted for the charted career. Which explains how quickly he found me after we hadn’t long since heard from each other. I couldn’t quite put it behind me nevertheless, neither him.
He was one hotshot, a certain je ne sais quoi. We fell in love. In the evening we would sneak out, and he would take me through a secret passage that leads to the labyrinthine heart of the Forbidden City; the passage was used in ancient times by the emperor to visit his favourite concubine.
‘Hey, you found it,’ he greeted me, his eyes mute in the dusk.
He took my hand.
‘Let’s walk, like the old days.’
We disappeared in the shades of the purple wall, ever extending.
‘This is what China is famous for and what the Chinese are best at. Building walls. Wall separating people. Wall between you and me…’ He squeezed my hand quickly as he spoke. Heaving a sigh as though to lift the burden of thinking, he halted his pace abruptly, putting out one hand to chafe over weathered paint, baring four letters, one word:
We had carved those on a rainy day, the day summer began, two decades ago. It was my birthday. ‘It is not down in any map; true places never are,’ he had cited,  while his hand holding mine finished the last stroke we cut in ancient clay. I had told him it looked like a lost cuneiform chart. Inanna, he had said, the Sumerian goddess of love, she was also the goddess of war. The scar we had left there on the wall survived major renovations, the scar on me, us. Love.
‘The murder?’ I asked.
‘It’s over. ’
‘Where is the corpse?’
‘You are the corpse, J.!’ He paused briefly. ‘After we parted, I couldn’t get over you. I got married and became a father, you were there always.’ Past tense. ‘Today, for the first time, I tell myself that the girl I loved is dead. Thank you! La bête, mon amour…murderer  of love…’
‘We were children…’ Is he going to accuse me of parricide, the slaughterer of our fathers and mothers and the hallowed past?
‘You think you could just rattle your tongue and start to criticize everything, because of what? Your foreign passport? It’s so easy for you – ’
‘I say what I say because I really think what I think. But you are right. Perhaps I wouldn’t have had the courage if I were not an outsider – ’
‘Outsider does not exist. You think you could be free? An individual? When people look at you they see a Chinese woman. They won’t let you because that’s the way it is… Pursued by a past, we all are. Haunted!’
His eyes locked on mine. ‘Today is the day to say goodbye. Today I can forget and make a fresh start. China must forget so people could all make a fresh start! We were children. Now it’s time to grow up.’
He lowered to kiss me for the last time. In his eyes I caught something shiny and wet.

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