Caixin
Apr 12, 2020 10:05 PM
SOCIETY & CULTURE

Blog: Wuhan Diary Author — There Is No Tension Between Me and the Country

Fang Fang
Fang Fang
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Editor’s note:

Online criticism of well-known Chinese author Fang Fang has been continuing, with the latest target being her plans of publishing her 60-day Wuhan diary about the coronavirus epidemic in English and German.

The 64-year-old has dispelled related rumors and speculation in a recent interview (link in Chinese) with Scholar, a public WeChat account, saying that assuming publishing a book abroad is treason is “childish.”

“There’s no tension between me and the country,” she said.

Below is a translation of the interview, edited for length and clarity.

** The publication of my diary is a natural thing

Scholar: Have you authorized the overseas publication of your epidemic diary? Have you been consulted on the English and German versions of the book’s covers and introductions?

Fang Fang: The publication has gotten my authorization. But I wasn’t commissioned by publishers to write the diary as some have said online. I didn’t call it a “diary” at the very beginning. I didn’t even intend to write it every day. It wasn’t until later for various reasons — for example, my Weibo account was blocked and “far-left” voices attacked me — that I began to have the idea that I had to write.

On Feb. 17, my translator, Michael Berry, who was translating my novel, asked me whether he could translate the diary first. As the situation was still not good in Wuhan at the time, I didn’t agree. I said I “have no intention of publishing a book for the time being.” But by the end of February, many publishers, including some from overseas, approached me, and then I informed Berry. He immediately said he was willing to translate it and contacted an agent. In early March, I licensed the international copyrights to the agent for my own convenience. It’s a natural process. My book title was “Wuhan Diary — Record of ? (days of) Lockdown.” As I didn’t know for how long the lockdown would last at the time, I didn’t put a number there.

I was consulted on the English cover. But I can’t read English, and didn’t expect the title to be changed. Besides, Berry neglected to read the small print. When he later noticed the issue, Berry apologized to me and promptly required all publishers to respect my original title. My German translator is Michael Kahn-Ackermann. Like Berry, he’s also very friendly to China. Booksellers may have biased remarks when promoting sales, but such issues can be corrected in a timely manner. Right now, it has been agreed that the text must be shown to the translators and then submitted for my sign-off. Both covers have been corrected.

(Editor’s note: The small print of the initial English cover said “DISPATCHES from the ORIGINAL EPICENTER.”)

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The latest cover of an English book about Fang Fang’s Wuhan diary.

When I first agreed to the publication, I told Berry I would donate all the money from publishing this book to help people in need. He said he would also donate some. And after he told the agent about my idea, the agent also said she would donate some to help Wuhan as well. These conversations all took place in late February or early March. So, don’t think of people as bad. Don’t assume that publishing a book abroad is treason. These kinds of ideas are childish.

Have you tried to publish the diary at home? When you decided to publish it overseas, did you think of any potential controversies?

It should have been published in China first. When domestic publishing houses approached me initially, I wasn’t in the mood. But later, as the epidemic abated, I agreed. At first, there were more than 10 domestic publishing houses interested in publishing the book, but now they dare not because of the backlash from the “far-left.” My domestic publishers are still making efforts, trying to get the book published at home before it’s published abroad.

Overseas publication is quite a normal thing among Chinese authors. Every Chinese author would like to have more people read his or her works. My book will be published overseas in August. The content is what everyone has read. I don’t think it will be controversial. The overseas presales have aroused a lot of suspicion. Some may deliberately mislead the public, for example, by saying that the publication will provide ammunition for foreigners to attack China, and unexpectedly, there are a lot of people buying this extreme view.

** There’s no tension between me and the country

Some say the overseas publication of your diary at this point may be used by people with ulterior motives abroad. There’s also speculation of “conspiracy theories.” What’s your response?

If people with ulterior motives abroad want to deliberately use the book in this way, they will use it anyway, no matter if I publish the book or what book I publish, right? Should we not publish the book just because someone wants to misuse it?

Not everything is a conspiracy. I’m quite old and can’t even read foreign languages. If people abroad want to hatch a plot, it would be better to conspire with someone stronger, wouldn’t it?

As an author, when facing an internal tension between your country, society and being an individual, how do you deal with it?

At this time there’s nothing more than some people trying to blackmail me in the name of the national interest. However, there’s no tension between me and the country, and my book will only help the country. Because I’ve recorded in detail Hubei’s measures at the later stage after the change of its top leadership. I wrote about how the epidemic was effectively contained. I wrote not only about makeshift hospitals and higher-ranking government officials working at the grassroots level, but also about how medical staff, volunteers and construction workers made every effort possible and how 9 million Wuhan residents persevered.

If people have read my diary, they can have a crystal-clear idea about China’s successful experience in fighting against the epidemic. My diary is by no means about the so-called negative things in China or deliberately peddling misery as misinterpreted by extremists. They take it out of context, making

** This society should be tolerant of a moderate diary

Criticism of your diary often crosses the line into personal attacks and divulging your personal information. Has this caused problems in your life? How are you going to respond?

This is something that internet regulators should address. They are indulging such online violence by their inaction. Why did no one step in when those who attacked me exposed my home address, made rumors to frame me, and dug into and exposed information about my wider family. Now that our technology is so developed that it can accurately block online information, why did no one intervene in such massive and prolonged cyber violence — almost two months of abuse and rumor-mongering? I’m afraid it’s too gentle to say this is just inaction.

Regarding the diary, there are clear divergences of opinion among the public. How do you think these cracks can be bridged?

For me, I wrote 60 articles of life in the epidemic area just because I was quarantined here. There’s no more than that. When such a mild recording can’t be tolerated and can arouse so many people’s hatred, this will leave countless people feeling afraid.

The atmosphere on social media is sometimes much the same as it was during the Cultural Revolution. The cracks were actually deliberately and artificially created by some people through misinterpretation as well as exaggeration of certain words. To bridge the cracks, we need to learn common sense. It won’t be possible for these cracks to exist, as long as there’s common sense.

Wuhan lifted its lockdown starting April 8. Have there been any new changes and plans in your life? What’s your expectation for the recovery of the city?

I’ve been writing a preface for the book “Wuhan Diary.” What the preface intends to convey is that: The virus is an enemy of all mankind. Both the East and the West have been tortured, and each has its own problems. China’s early slackness and the West’s arrogance shown by its mistrust of China’s experience in combating the epidemic have led to the loss of numerous lives, the destruction of countless lives, and the damage of human society as a whole. All in all, human beings are too arrogant and conceited. Humans despise the destructive energy of a tiny virus. The lesson is for all mankind.

Contact translator Lin Jinbing (jinbinglin@caixin.com) and editor Marcus Ryder (marcusryder@caixin.com)

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