Yan Lianke was born in 1958 in Luoyang, Henan, China. His parents were farmers. During his time in the People’s Liberation Army, he wrote propaganda texts. Due to their often grotesque-satirical nature and subversive undertones, some of his novels have been banned in China. He often comments on the process of self-censorship. In his home country he is successful with many honors to his name, but also controversial and he was excluded from the official delegation to the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2009. But, as he pragmatically concluded in a 2014 essay, it is unusual for a serious writer not to have any problems with censorship.
Lianke’s extensive work has been translated into many languages. His writing, which has found much resonance internationally, often takes repressed incidents and gives them existential, partly allegorical dimensions. »Dīng zhuāng mèng« (2006; Eng. »Dream of Ding Village«, 2011) is about the destruction of a provincial village in the early 1990s when its populace is infected with HIV after a collective blood donation drive. In »Shouhuo« (2004; Eng. »Lenin’s Kisses«, 2013) the inhabitants of a remote mountain village put their manifold disabilities on show in a wandering circus by a greedy official after the loss of a harvest following freak weather conditions. Permeated with injections of dialect that are explained in notes, the non-linear narrative of the how ideals are sold off rises to absurd heights, but nevertheless remains deeply human at its core. Again set in Lianke’s home region, »Sishu« (2011; Eng. »The Four Books«, 2016) describes the abuse suffered in a reeducation camp during the years of famine with rigorous stylistic determination: tetralogically structured and metafictional with echoes of the biblical as well as the burlesque. »Zhaliezhi« (2013; Eng »The Explosion Chronicles«, 2016) is »as much a parody of communist rule in China as a devastating critique of capitalist excess, power, greed and self-destruction. Yan’s novel is nothing short of a masterpiece« (»Observer«). »Nian yue ri« (1997; Eng. »The Years Months Days«, 2017) is a powerful, moving fable about the drive to survive, sacrifice and the beauty of life from »China’s most feted author« (»Financial Times«). »Rixi« (2015; Eng. »The Day the Sun Died«, 2018) pits a lucid nightmare against the optimism of Xi Jinping’s »Chinese Dream« while underscoring Lianke’s skill at idiosyncratically melting parable-like and timely elements.
Lianke has received the Lu Xun Literary Prize (1998/2001), the Lao She Literary Award (2005), the Franz Kafka Prize (2014) and the Dream of the Red Chamber Award (2016). He has been a finalist for the Man Booker International several times, shortlisted for the Man Asia Prize and the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize and nominated for the Principe de Asturias Prize twice. Lianke lives in Beijing.