Young, free & cynical

Source:Global Times Published: 2010-3-16 3:42:12

Photo: Wang Zi

By Matthew Jukes

His books have been read by millions before they even go to press. This bestselling author is known for depicting corruption, sex, violence and the truth about modern Chinese society in stark detail. An entire city government tried to speak out about his book, believing that his honest observations would damage their image…How is it then that Murong Xuecun is such a nice guy?

"I am not the character in my book," he says, voicing a phrase that has seen much practice. "I just write down part of the world that I have seen in person. If I'm writing though, it gives me the chance to live another life, experience another life," he adds affably.

Frank insights

Perhaps that's fitting as the author's official identification carries no hints as to who he is; Murong is not his real name and thanks to an administrative mistake in rural Jilin Province, his ID card carries his date of birth as 1973, a year before he was born.

The character he refers to, from his book, Leave Me Alone: A Novel of Chengdu, is young businessman Chen Zhong. As the book progresses, it follows his life as he cheats on his wife, attempts to overthrow his boss, spends company money on women, drink and bribes and watches the chaos that unfolds as a result of his untrusting view of society.

Last year the novel was translated into English, and the independent writer was published thanks to equally independent start up Make-do Publishing. Many have called it a frank insight into contempo-rary China, which has left him with a reputation as the poet of corruption.

"It's been around, since university, since I started my major in China," says the graduate of economic law. "There wasn't really some thing, or some moment, when I became interested in the idea of corruption, but it's been there."

Murong's reputation grew, thanks to publishing serializations on the Internet after the dot com boom around the year 2000, which kick started his career as a professional writer. Prior to being a full time novelist, he'd been a car salesman, legal advisor, Internet café owner and more. Not only did his works win acclaim, but also anger, in particular from women.

"It was a natural process. When I worked as management in one company, they had an internal BBS (bulletin board system) on which people could post what they liked. Some of this stuff was a bit crappy. I thought if they can do it, I can do it better. Before long, people were asking for sequels. That's when the publishers approached," he says.


Netizen wrath

Of course, all work is subject to the wrath of China's infamous netizens. His depiction of women as people who could be manipulated by men, but equally ready to jump out of their clothes for their own selfish desires, raised a bit of an uproar.

"One woman on the net said that my work was an assault on women and gave me the nickname 'the misogynist.' It's just not true. I don't hate women," he says, genuinely offended.

A similar situation occurred when a student raised the issue again during a talk about the book at his former university. "I said, look, you say that women are always presented this way, do you think the male characters are presented any better? If society wants to criticize, I'm a human being hater, not just one sex." He went on to win an "online celebrity award" for his work.

In 2004, two years after the success of Leave Me Alone, the Chengdu government, not content, gathered together to criticize the novel, which they thought was damaging to the tourism of the city. "They should have given me an award!" says Murong, "all of my friends said that I did wonders for that city bringing in the tourists. If people ask, I always tell them I have three and a half favorite cities. Chengdu, Shenzhen, Lhasa, and the half is Qingdao."

Despite annoying the tourism industry, women and nationalists, the prestigious, but unimaginative China Writers Association continues to offer him membership. "The ruder I am to them, the more they offer me a place," he jokes at the Bookworm.

Murong is also no stranger to travel. "Writing is my work, but traveling is my hobby. During any trip I'll be preparing for my next work," says the writer who claims to take temporary residence in Guangzhou. Unsurprisingly for the man without a home, he's always out and about when it comes to work, and knows that it has to be that way.

"I start work at midnight," he says. "I'll normally head to one of those little 24-hour café places and set up. When the clock reaches 8 am, I know it's time to go home and take a rest. It's during this time that I can feel the most inspired. It's quieter, it helps me to concentrate. At home I'd get distracted," he adds, professing to a love of novels and cinema.

Although he's aware that he can get through three packets of cigarettes a day, a great many burn themselves out in the ashtray next to the computer, lost in the fires of inspiration.


Pyramid scheme

Wherever he's staying will depend on how he spends his time. Waking up in the afternoon in Lhasa means that he'll go for a walk in the temple area before preparing for an evening's work, waking up in Sanya will mean a swim and a bit of light reading before settling down. This kind of freedom is hard to give up.

"I want to be single for the rest of my life," he muses. "This doesn't mean I don't have female friends. I just don't want to get married. I don't believe in it, and I don't need it."

Most recently, he was involved in a pyramid selling scheme in an encampment set up in Jiangsu Province, where people were trained to get rich, while surviving on just three and a half jiao (cents) a day. Had the nice guy finally decided to join the world he wrote about?

"I did it out of curiosity," he says. "I'd heard that people were given only three and a half mao; what can you eat for three and a half mao nowadays!?" As soon as he left, he tipped off the local police force and let them deal with the rest. "I'd intended to write something about it, maybe non-fiction this time. I wasn't worried, I majored in law and I'm trained in Sanshou (a form of Martial art practiced by the Chinese military). If anything bad went down I know I could handle it."

Although Leave Me Alone has brought Murong to the attention of the English speaking world, he's been tackling some of the topics that affect modern society in Chinese, and leaves the mouth watering at the thought of more English translations. These include Heaven on the Left, Shenzhen on the Right, Countless People Die of Greed and his most recent work Dancing Through Red Dust. Despite the jarring titles and hints of hard-hitting non-fiction to come, Murong insists that he will carry on being positive.

"I believe that the things I write about are realistic, I just write about part of the world I've seen in my personal experience. Negative and positive are just ideas in the book," he says.

"Life is full of miracles and I can be happy with the little things."

Sheng Taotao contributed to this story. cn

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