I FIRST ENCOUNTERED Han Han at the age of 12, in the spring of 2000, on the second floor of a Beijing academic bookstore. A seventh-grade student in one of the city’s most competitive junior high schools, I was scouring the shelves in search of books that would help me tackle the five hours’ worth of daily homework assignments and seemingly endless array of quizzes and exams. There, surrounded by the bright and noisy covers of Getting to Know Trigonometry and New Concept English Grammar, was a picture of a naked infant, cringing in a fetal position and hovering above a dark blue background — the cover of Triple Door, Han Han’s first novel. Written when he was just 17, the semi-autobiographical story details the life of an antsy Shanghai teenager as he slouches through his claustrophobic daily life in the country’s creativity-deadening educational system, loathing the environment defined by empty rules and unreasonable expectations, yet feeling driven to try to excel in it. The book resonated with Han’s peers. Tens of thousands of copies sold in weeks; it became the year’s best-selling book in China.