In 1946, George Orwell articulated the reasons why he put pen to paper in an essay entitled Why I Write.
In this Web series, authors talk about their literary habits and reading preferences,
and examine Orwell's question that lies at the heart of being an author—why they write.

Michael Schoenhals

Mao's Last Revolution


Michael Schoenhals is a professor of Chinese at Lund University and the author of Mao’s Last Revolution (with Roderick MacFarquhar). He is also the editor of China’s Cultural Revolution 1966-1969: Not a Dinner Party, a documentary reader/anthology dealing with the Cultural Revolution published in 1996 by M. E. Sharpe. Other books by Schoenhals include Doing Things with Words in Chinese Politics: Five Studies, a volume of studies of rhetoric, censorship and propaganda in China; and Saltationist Socialism: Mao Zedong and the Great Leap Forward 1958.


Why I write

I enjoy it and am in the ridiculously privileged position of being able to do it as part of my job.


Do you write every day? If so, how many hours?

From dawn to noon, and for a few more hours in the afternoon. It all depends on what is meant by ‘to write.’ In terms of words, I am very pleased with myself if I manage 800 in a day. Years of reading and research sometimes result in no more than a single sentence.


Worst source of distraction?

I could say teaching or email – but why not the sun? Why stay in front of the computer and work when you can opt for the balcony and a glass of wine instead? (I’m being very Swedish here.)


Best source of inspiration?

My wife, really, though she is likely to say she doesn’t believe me. Second comes music like Charlie Parker on Dial, or John Coltrane at L’Olympia.


How often do you get writers’ block/doubt your own ability?

I never get writer’s block. I’m only now and then excruciatingly slow. Self-doubt is for pussies: real writers draw creative inspiration from self-denial!


Contemporary writer in any medium who you never miss?

That’s easy: Tom Engelhardt and his – ”a regular antidote to the mainstream media.”


Favorite Chinese writer?

Mao Zedong.


Best book about China?

This is where I definitely and shamelessly want to do a plug for State and Ethnicity in China’s Southwest by Xiaolin Guo. Forget about Mao’s Last Revolution and – if you can afford it – read instead this lucid treatment of state penetration into local Chinese society.


Favorite book?

Fish Who Answer the Telephone and Other Bizarre Books by Russell Ash and Brian Lake.


Favorite writer?

Really don’t have one, but if I did it might be George Orwell, whose Down and Out In Paris and London was the first book in English I ever read. Or why not the early Dylan for his lyrics? As part of my work, I read a lot of unpublished life-stories by ordinary Chinese, preserved in personnel files from Mao’s time: often those stories are a very moving read.


The book you should have read but haven’t?

My friend Wu Di’s muckraking novel Hillside Goats: a New Unofficial History of the Forest of the Literati. The manuscript has been on my desk for two months now and I still haven’t gotten around to it.


You look back at the first thing you had published and think…

A translation into Swedish of Ba Jin’s short story Drunk, appearing in an anarchist magazine in 1974. Those were the days…


Does writing change anything?

Of course it does! Except you never know in advance just what it will be…

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Posted on: December 23rd, 2012 by admin No Comments