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In this essay, Yan Lianke reflects on the conditions of literary production in contemporary China, and specifically on the combined influence of centralized power, on one hand, and relative laxity, on the other. He notes that, in contrast to the more constrained conditions that one found in China under Mao Zedong or in contemporary North Korea, in contemporary China literary production is shaped by the intersecting influence of “the open nature of contemporary China's economy and the closed nature of its politics.” The openness of the economic regime creates a space of what he calls relative laxity, which intersects dynamically with the nation's centralized political power. Yan Lianke contrasts the way that recent traumatic events like the Great Famine of the late 1950s are treated (or not treated) in contemporary Chinese literature with the way that comparable traumatic events, like the 9/11 attacks, are treated in American literature. He concludes by observing the he has “never abandoned [his] efforts to examine China's history and contemporary reality” but worries whether, as a result of his “attention to the power, politics, society, and reality in the sky over people's heads,” he thereby risks “losing [his] appreciation of ordinary people, emotion, and affairs.”

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