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What is the true story of contemporary Chinese literature? What role do poets and novelists play in representing their country to their fellow citizens, and to the outside world? And how accurate are the stories that we tell about China in the West? In a month when China is the Market Focus country at the London Book Fair, English PEN, the Reading Agency and Free Word host a fascinating day-long programme of debates, readings, film screenings and music which will aim to improve our understanding of the freedom to write, and the freedom to read, in China.

9am - Arrival and Welcome

9.30am – 11am Writing China

What is life really like for the writers of China? What stories do Chinese writers tell about their country and who are they writing for? How do the realities of Chinese writing differ from Western assumptions? Acclaimed writer, architect and director Ou Ning and fiction writer Chen Xiwo share their stories from inside China. Chaired by Julia Lovell.

11am – 11.15am Break

11.15am – 1pm Freedom to Write?

Is it always possible to say what you mean in China? The consequences for writers who choose to openly tackle controversial topics in their writing can be very severe. Ma Jian and Li Jianhong are both writers forced into exile as a direct result of their writing. They’ll be discussing the constraints on Chinese writers, as well as the work of the Independent Chinese PEN Centre. Chaired by Jonathan Heawood.

1pm – 2.30pm – LUNCH

In the afternoon we have a series of seminars for you to choose from. From 2.30 – 3.30pm you can choose from seminars A, B & C. Then From 3.45 – 4.45pm our guest authors will be reading from their work and taking your questions in Meet the Author sessions D, E, F or G. Seminars will be introduced and ‘steered’ by a guest host but these are open discussion forums in which we encourage you to bring your thoughts, opinions and questions along with you to share and debate.

2.30PM – 3.30PM

SEMINAR A: Translating China

Translator Nicky Harman and founder of Paper Republic Eric Abrahamsen discuss the issues around translating and publishing Chinese literature. How can readers and publishers find out about great writing in Chinese and how can it be brought to a wider audience?

SEMINAR B: Reporting China

Reporting China, from both inside and outside the country, comes with its own special challenges. Isabel Hilton, founder and editor of, and Deng Zhixin, former editor at Southern Metropolis Daily, will be sharing their experience and offering insights into the world of Chinese journalism.

SEMINAR C: Marginal Voices

Chinese identity is an often fragmented and disputed idea. Professor Harriet Evans’ work focuses on the position of women in Chinese society. Kaiser Abdurusul ÖzHun is President of the Uyghur PEN centre. They’ll be discussing groups whose voices often go unnoticed in the drive towards modernisation in China. Moderated by Ophelia Field.

3.45pm – 4.45pmMEET THE AUTHOR - Our acclaimed guest authors will give readings from their work and take questions

Session A: Diane Wei Liang Author of the Mei Wang detective novels including Paper Butterfly.

Session B: Ma Jian Author of books including Red Dust and Beijing Coma.

Session C: Kerry Young Author of the Costa First Book Award shortlisted novel Pao.

Session D: Ling Zhang Author of five novels including Mail-Order Bride and Gold Mountain Blues.

5pm – 6pm Meishi Street

Directed by Ou Ning, Meishi Street was made in 2006 and follows a group of Beijing residents protesting the planned destruction of their street prior to the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The filmmakers gave video cameras to the subjects and they were able to capture exclusive footage of the eviction process, allowing them a role in authoring their own stories. We’ll be screening a short extract from the film, which will be followed by a Q&A session with filmmakers Ou Ning and Jingjing Xie.

6pm –Visible Chinese

Join us for a drink and an informal chance to discuss the day’s activities. Acclaimed poet Yang Lian and translators Nicky Harman and Stephen Watts will be reading a short selection of Chinese poetry, including work from the forthcoming Bloodaxe anthology Jade Ladder. Zoe Baxter of Resonancefm’s Lucky Cat show will be closing out the day playing us some of the best in contemporary Chinese music.

China Inside Out

Presented by English PEN, Free Word Centre, The Reading Agency, Writers’ Centre Norwich

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