Modern China is So Crazy It Needs a New Literary Genre
Translated from the Chinese by Thomas Moran.
The first thing I should do, of course, is explain what I mean by
“chaohuan,” which we are rendering in English as “ultra-unreal.” The
literal meaning of “chaohuan” is “surpassing the unreal” or “surpassing
the imaginary.” It is a word that a friend and I made up about a year
ago during a conversation about contemporary Chinese reality. Not long
after, I used the word in remarks I made at a conference in Hainan
province. The conference was organized by the Institute of Literature at
the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, and recently the institute’s
journal, the influential Literary Review, published an article
that uses our coinage in its title. The word “ultra-unreal” is young;
it’s a newborn baby. I confidently submit, however, that it is going to
live a long, healthy life. China’s been pregnant with the word for at
least 30 years. Maybe 50 years. Maybe even 100 years.
So, what has happened in China over the last 100 years? Well, let’s
leave aside the more distant past and limit ourselves to just the last
decade, during which much of Chinese reality has seemed like a
hallucination. Some of the things that have actually happened have
surpassed novels and movies in their inventiveness. Let me give a few
minor examples that reveal something of the current Chinese reality.