Letter to My Mother

Ou Ning on his career as a poet and filmmaker – translated by Nicky Harman

This is the third piece in a series of four translations of long creative non-fiction essays that first appeared in Chinese in OWMagazine 单读, translated in collaboration with Read Paper Republic. In this personal essay, literati Ou Ning remembers his hometown and reflects on his movement away from it into the world of social activism. To support further translation such as this after the series ends, give now to our translation drive by donating to our Patreon page.


I am in Baan Mae village, Sanpatong County, Chiangmai, Thailand. The sun has just gone down and night is drawing in. Darkness seeps across the rice fields, the bamboo forests, the banana palms and rape flowers, and as my friends light the lanterns, I feel a light breeze. I’m thinking of you, Mum, in the bitter cold of a Beijing winter, and thinking too, of our home. Xialiu, the village in Guangdong, where, just like here, smoke from kitchen fires fills the air. When I was a kid, you’d work all day in the field before rushing home to make dinner. We were all so poor back then, we could barely afford rice. Meals were mostly sweet potatoes stewed to a porridge with a little rice. Lately, I’ve been getting nostalgic for that porridge, so sweet, so perfectly thirst-slaking. I miss my life there and as the years go by, my memories grow more and more melancholy. But that is why I decided to bring you to Beijing.


Hiding in Plain Sight

Yan Ge in Conversation With Nicky Harman


Nicky Harman: How did the story of the novel occur to you? I was struck when I read it that here was an author, young and female, who had chosen to make the main protagonist a philandering middle-aged man.

Yan Ge: Looking back, it probably was a strategic move rather than a spontaneous one. Having been writing and published since 17, I’ve always been a writer (it seems), while at the same time, I’ve always been a student. In my previous stories, there’s always a writer in it and the stories are always more or less about literary people or intellectuals.


Happy and Me

Jia Pingwa on the origin of his novel – translated by Nicky Harman

One afternoon three years ago, I was at home reading Journey to the West and thinking that the monk Xuanzang and his three disciples were really four different sides of the same person, when suddenly there was a loud rapping at the door. These days, when everyone has telephones, it is rare for a visitor to turn up unannounced. I wondered who it was. I was not expecting anyone. I deliberately waited a while before opening the door, to indicate my displeasure at this uninvited guest. Knock, knock, knock, the noise came again, getting louder with each rap. Finally, there was a thud as someone kicked the door. Indignant, I flung the door open.

Story Club


A shocking story by Chen Xiwo – translated by Nicky Harman


Does it hurt? Have you got a headache? The kind that makes life not worth living. The kind that hits you when you wake up in the morning, even though there was nothing wrong when you went to sleep – no cold, no bad dreams, nothing. You just fell asleep, and when you woke up, there it was. Now your whole day is wrecked. All you can do is blunder through until it’s time to go to bed again.

Then again, a toothache’s much worse. Worse than anything. A toothache grabs hold of you and forces you to do something about it.

I’ve always had toothaches. I blame my mom. All our suffering is genetic, unless you get smashed up by a car.