CULTURE Famous Chinese spy novelist feels duty to represent his country


Famous Chinese spy novelist feels duty to represent his country

Global Times

00:50, September 24, 2019


Novelist and screenwriter Mai Jia.  (Photo: GT)

Mai Jia is one of the most famous novelists and scriptwriters in China, and is regarded as the creator and pioneer of the Chinese spy novel genre. 

His first novel Jiemi (Decoded) first published in 2002, was included in the famous Penguin Classics, a series of classic literary works published by famous British book publisher Penguin Books in 2014, and was selected as one of "the 20 best spy novels of all time" by The Daily Telegraph in 2017. 

His later novels Ansuan (Plotting) and Fengsheng (The Sound of the Wind) were also highly praised by spy novel fans in China.

With the upcoming 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China, Mai Jia spoke to the Global Times about his stories and his beloved country.

'The best state'

Mai Jia, 58, whose original name is Jiang Benhu, entered a military academy when he was 17 and then spent about 17 years in military.

He said that the army is the symbol and representative of a country, and his 17 years of military life helped him come up with his series of exciting stories.

"When I was in the army, soldiers like me had many daily jobs," said Mai Jia. "But once there is an emergency situation, soldiers have to stop what they're doing, pick up their rifles and go to the battlefield." 

However, in Mai Jia's 17-year service, all he did was "routine jobs." "Actually that is the best state of a soldier," said Mai Jia. "It means our country and people are at peace and happy."

Speaking up for China

Mai Jia's books are popular in other countries, and he says he probably goes abroad three to four times a year.

"I'm often invited to attend some literary festivals, book festivals or book exhibitions. There are usually about 30 writers at an event and I'm always the only Chinese writer," said Mai Jia. "At those times, I not only represent myself, but also China."

He told Global Times that some people from Western countries have different ideologies and, as a result, even some hostility toward him. 

"When they interview you, provoke you and even humiliate you, they are not representing themselves," Mai Jia said. "I realized that what I said not only represents me as a writer, but also my country, and my patriotism and passion for my country will rise from the bottom of my heart."

Mai Jia shared one of his experiences in Germany, when a journalist from Deutsche Welle wanted to interview him and sent him the questions.

"None of the questions were about literature, but about politics," said Mai Jia.

 "One of the questions even asked whether the CPC had arranged for me to be a writer."

Mai Jia refused the interview because he didn't believe it would be objective and fair. But the journalist said that the refusal would show that Mai Jia was scared of the pressure.

Mai Jia then accepted the interview and told the journalist that he did not feel pressure, but was worried about whether the journalist could understand his answers correctly.

"I answered every question in the interview and he changed his attitude gradually," he said. "He began to understand me and China."

"He realized at the end of the interview that 'when you talk about China, it's better to talk with a Chinese,'" said Mai Jia.

Stepping out

In 2016, Mai Jia was invited to attend a literary festival in Jerusalem. Out of about 21 international writers, Mai Jia was the only one from Asia. 

The writers were separated into two buses. Mai Jia and his wife were arranged to take a bus with eight writers from the US.

"When we were on the bus, I felt an indifference that they hadn't shown when we were attending the event together," said Mai Jia.

One female writer began to talk with Mai and asked him whether he had published a book in the US and who had published it.

"I answered yes and told her FSG published my book," said Mai Jia, "and her eyes suddenly opened wide."

FSG, or Farrar, Straus and Giroux, is one of the most famous book publishing companies in the US.

Mai Jia then told her that the editor was Eric Chinski, the editor-in-chief of FSG.

"Our conversation was heard by the other writers on the bus. I could feel that their eyes softened," said Mai Jia. "After that, they showed respect to me and my wife for the rest of the journey. They respected a Chinese writer who was able to publish a book with the best US book publisher."

Mai Jia said that in the past decade, China has continued to thrive in the world, and great progress and achievements have also been made in cultural exports.

"Other countries are becoming more familiar with China and more willing to explore China," Mai Jia said. "When they have enough understanding, their attitudes will be more objective."

In recent years, China's writers have won several world famous literary awards, such as Mo Yan who won the Nobel prize in literature in 2012, Liu Cixin who won the Hugo Award in 2015 and Cao Wenxuan for the Hans Christian Andersen Award in 2016.

"The awards are a sign of progress in China's literature," said Mai, "What's more, it shows the integration of China's literature with international literature."  

Mai Jia believed that the reason why China's literature is now being recognized on the international stage lies in its unique literary value, form and spirit.

"The next mission is to export our spirit and ideology," said Mai Jia, "In that way, misunderstanding and cultural shocks can be reduced."

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