Story Club

The New and the Old

A tale of crime and punishment from Shen Congwen - translated by Jeffrey Kinkley

During a year in the reign of the Guangxu Emperor, 1875– 1908….

Horses were being raced in this little county town, across parade grounds drenched by the sun in shimmering yellow. Meanwhile men in military garb, outfitted in all the colors of the rainbow, gathered before the Martial Demonstration Hall to rehearse the eighteen different disciplines of the martial arts. It fell to the circuit intendant in this season of Frost’s Descent1 to inspect the drills as tradition required, set the ranks in order, announce promotions and demotions, and confer rewards and punishments. And so this army, of the Military Preparedness Circuit commanding the frontier prefectures of Chenzhou, Yuanzhou, Yongzhou, and Jingzhou, was stepping up its drills in preparation for examinations. Seated on folding chairs in front of the Martial Demonstration Hall, the patrol commander and drill instructor drank tea from covered bowls and called the roll from a register in red covers. Each soldier could select the gear that best suited him and have a crack at wielding his weapon, solo or against an opponent. When it came to the competitions on horseback, the mounts were given free rein to gallop like the wind, while the men demonstrated their skill at knocking off balls with long lances or revolved in the saddle to show off their archery – “puncturing the willow leaf” from a hundred paces. Each won hurrahs or jeers according to his prowess.

Story Club


A tale of crime and hamstrings by Diao Dou, translated by Brendan O'Kane 

Diao Dou, born in 1960 in China's Northeast, is one of the most exciting Chinese writers you might have never heard of. For our March story club, we bring you one of his most thought-provoking stories – a tale of the city, the people and the troubled polity. In a few weeks we will discuss the story with its translator, Brendan O'Kane, and perhaps Diao Dou too. As always invite you to write into [email protected] with your questions and comments, to join the conversation. – The Editors

Summer is high season for criminal offences, particularly at night.

I’m not just referring to crimes of a sexual nature.

That sexual assault is more prevalent during the summer months, and especially on summer nights, is a fact in need of little explanation. Indeed, summer nights facilitate many other forms of crime, as may also go without saying.

Brawling, for example.

Story Club

Discussion: Pain

Chen Xiwo answers questions on his agonizing story

Editor’s note: In January we republished the story ‘Pain’ by controversial Chinese writer Chen Xiwo. If you haven’t read this brilliant and thought-provoking short story already, we advise you do so now, as below Chen answers questions from readers and our editorial team, alongside the story’s translator Nicky Harman and its publisher Harvey Thomlinson. If you’re curious to read more, buy Chen’s collection in translation, The Book of Sins. - Alec Ash

Chen Xiwo: Interpersonal relations matter in China. Modernity’s break with tradition was incomplete and old ways persist, so China is still a society based on interpersonal relations. That’s ‘interpersonal’ and not ‘human’ relations. Human relations are intimate, while interpersonal relations are instrumental. This is one root of China’s current moral crisis, which is far from just a modern malaise. Even where there’s love, there’s a dearth of deep communication. Did you notice that my protagonist is an only child? China’s lack of mutual understanding was made more acute by the one-child policy.

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.

Story Club

Discussion: Convince Me

The author and translator answer your questions on Jiang Yitan's 'Convince Me'


Olivia Humphrey: How do you think through the tensions between the emotions and physiology that play out so beautifully in your work?

Jiang Yitan: The inspiration for 'Convince Me' came from a small article describing the dissection of a crocodile. Suddenly I knew the identities of the two main characters in the story. I have always believed that every animal has a spirit and that animals are the observers and witnesses of humanity. They are unable to change humanity but their presence is enough to show people their selfishness and ugliness.