Yuan-Tsung Chen was born in pre-Communist Shanghai and is the author of the autobiographical novel The Dragon’s Village and Return to the Middle Kingdom, a memoir of her father-in-law, Chinese revolutionary Eugene Chen, a close comrade of Sun Yatsen.
Why I write
To have my say about things going on around me.
Do you write every day? If so, how many hours?
About four days in a week. Sometimes I don’t write for quite a while, because I don’t have my computer with me, for example, on trips. When I work, about five hours a day.
Worst source of distraction?
When I cannot put down a book I am reading.
Best source of inspiration?
Remembrance of things past. When I read the experience of a character in a book that is similar to mine, it jogs my memory and sends me back in time. It makes me restless until I write it down.
How often do you get writers’ block / doubt your own ability?
From day to day. I think I have more perseverance than ability.
Contemporary writer in any medium who you never miss?
Classic writers (including recent ones, for example, Bernard Malamud and Sha Ding) are the love of my life.
Favorite Chinese writer?
Wu Cheng’en who wrote Journey to the West, and Shi Naian who wrote Water Margin.
Best book about China?
Shi Naian’s Water Margin.
Many, here is one example, Turgenev’s Home of the Gentry.
Again, many, Turgenev is one of them.
The book you should have read but haven’t?
I love to read. The more I read, the more I know I haven’t read and I should have read. When I finished reading Proust’s Swann’s Way, the first part of Remembrance of Things Past, 42 years ago, I was profoundly moved and wanted to read the next seven parts, but up to this minute I still haven’t opened the second volume.
You look back at the first thing you had published and think…
How lucky I am that I have survived so far and get a few books published.
Does writing change anything?
I would like to believe that my writing makes a little difference, because I also believe that a writer has a social responsibility. My autobiographical novel, The Dragon’s Village, telling China’s land revolution through a bourgeois girl’s eyes, is still in print after it first came out 30 years ago, because schools are using it as required reading. My recent book, Return to the Middle Kingdom: One Family, Three Revolutionaries, and the Birth of Modern China, is praised by Professor Chalmers Johnson, one of the renowned scholars in Chinese Studies. He said: “Her memoir is filled with new details concerning warlords, revolutionaries, Soviet and Chinese Communists, and figures like Chiang Kaishek and Zhou Enlai.” Details illuminate and new details throw new light on historical events.