I Am China by Xiaolu Guo review – exile and uncertainty

Isabel Hilton on Chinese politics and culture across three continents: The Guardian

I am ChinaIn 2010, the Chinese writer Liao Yiwu wrote an open letter to Angela Merkel, to express his deep disappointment that the Chinese authorities had prevented him from travelling to Germany to take part in a programme of literary events. In his letter, he imagines himself visiting Germany, but returning to China: “It is unimaginable,” he wrote, “that a writer would be able to do anything once he has left the place of his mother tongue.” 

Liao is now in exile in Germany after escaping from China on foot in 2011, and perhaps he might find comfort in the examples of other Chinese writers who, despite having left the place of their mother tongue, remain engaged and prolific artists. Some of them, such as the novelist Ma Jian, continue to write in Chinese; others, such as Xiaolu Guo, who has lived in Britain since 2002, now write in English.

It would be impossible to categorise Guo as a writer in danger of losing her voice once out of her native context. In addition to 10 books, five of them written since leaving China, she has racked up a total of 10 films as director/producer and two as screenwriter. She is the most convincing exemplar of her belief that, as she once told an interviewer, for someone driven to create: “Languages and settings are the tools, but not the first thing.”

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