23. ilb 06. – 16.09.2023
Portrait Ma Jian
© Ali Ghandtschi

Ma Jian

Ma Jian was born in the harbour city of Qingdao in the Chinese province of Shandong in 1953. He worked in a chemicals factory, then moved to Beijing to work as a photojournalist for a state-owned magazine. Here he joined an experimental group of artists and organized secret exhibitions of his paintings. After his works of arts were confiscated by the police, he gave up his job and travelled for three years through China and Tibet.On his return to Beijing he wrote »Stick Out Your Tongue« (1986), a novella inspired by his travels. He said later that writing enabled him to express his view of the world more clearly than was possible with the visual arts. Shortly after his novella appeared, the government condemned it as a work of »bourgeois liberalism«, destroyed every copy and placed a blanket ban on the publication of all his future work. He moved to Hong Kong to continue writing in freedom, and set up »New Era« publishing company and »Trends« literary magazine as platforms for texts that were banned in China. After the Handover of Hong Kong to Chinese rule in 1997, he taught Chinese literary history at the Ruhr University in Bochum, then a year later moved to London with his wife Flora Drew, who translates his works into English. Although all his books have been banned in China since 1987, he continued to return to China regularly, spending many months a year in Beijing, until he was finally refused entry in 2011. In his 900-page novel »Beijing Coma« (2008) he describes the student movement of 1989 that was crushed in the Tiananmen Massacre, and the decade of repression that followed. The inspiration for Ma Jian’s novels usually derives from one memorable image. For »Beijing Coma«, it was the image of a sparrow nesting on the arm of a comatose man; for his most recent novel »The Dark Road« (2013), about the brutal enforcement of the one child policy, it was the image of a pregnant woman drifting down the Yangtze River on a ramshackle barge. Based on months of research in China’s remote hinterlands, Ma Jian draws the reader’s attention in vivid descriptive language to the millions living outside of the economic boom.Because of his calls for more freedom of speech and for the release of political prisoners, Ma Jian’s works have been banned in China for more than 25 years, but have been translated into numerous languages. Recognised as one of China’s leading authors, he received the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award (2002) for »Red Dust« (2003), the China Free Culture Prize (2009), the TR Fyvel Book Award from the organisation Index on Censorship (2009) as well as the Athens Prize for Literature (2010). Ma lives in London.


The Noodle Maker
Chatto & Windus
London, 2004
[engl. Ü: Flora Drew]
Stick Out Your Tongue
Chatto & Windus
London, 2006
[engl. Ü: Flora Drew]
Reinbek, 2009
[Ü: Susanne Höbel]
Red Dust. Drei Jahre unterwegs durch China
München, 2009
[Ü: Barbara Heller]
The Dark Road
Chatto & Windus
London, 2013
[engl. Ü: Flora Drew]