Jasper Becker is an author, commentator and journalist who spent two decades as a foreign correspondent in China. He is the author of several critically acclaimed books on China, including Hungry Ghosts (1996), The Chinese (2002), Dragon Rising (2007) and City of Heavenly Tranquility (2008).
Why I write
Well, it’s how I earn my living. Of course there is writing and ‘WRITING.’ A lot of it is forgettable. If you are lucky you get a chance to shape a story from a mass of facts and interviews and turn it into something good that stands the test of time.
Do you write every day? If so, how many hours?
As I journalist I wrote something most days and as an author, it is in fits and starts but usually a good few hours in the morning.
Worst source of distraction?
The Internet so if you really want to concentrate you have to unplug yourself but sometimes trawling through websites can spark ideas although a lot of what I do can also be termed displacement activity.
Best source of inspiration?
As above. It is a bottomless well of info about anything. The other way to get new ideas is to switch off, go for a walk, take a bath, that kind of thing.
How often do you get writers’ block/doubt your own ability?
Not much. I tend to just get on with it. It is better to write something than nothing. Even its just rubbish, it gets you started.
Contemporary writer in any medium who you never miss?
Anyone who is a bit contrarian. I tend to like Mark Steyn, Christopher Booker etc.
Favorite Chinese writer?
Too many contemporary have been brainwashed or just scared from thinking clearly by the Party’s official view of history and culture to be very interesting. But I have always enjoyed anything from the past translated by Arthur Waley.
Best book about China?
I thought the book and the recent film A Painted Veil by Somerset Maugham was excellent. It is works both as a portrait of China and as a tragic love triangle. Eileen Chang is also good in that way. In general I prefer books that don’t take China so seriously or were the big issues are relegated to the background.
Recently I have enjoyed reading some of the very scholarship done on the Republican period, for instance the book: The Shanghai Green Gang: Politics an Organized Crime 1919-1937 by Brian Martin.
I very much admire the work of Robert Conquest for the way he uncovered the true horrors of the Soviet Union and fought against the army of western scholars ad writers who dismissed the truth about what happened there. We now know who was wrong and who was right.
The book you should have read but haven’t?
A long list, I should think.
You look back at the first thing you had published and think…
It is not as bad as I thought it was but I wish I had spent more time on it.
Does writing change anything?
I certainly hope so.