Yan Lianke

Yan Lianke

Understand the Enemy

“I think that my fate cannot be separated from literature.” Meet award-winning Yan Lianke – one of China’s greatest novelists – who here shares the story of his balancing act in relation to Chinese censorship and how he has risked his life in order to write.

“Feeding myself through writing made me fall in love with literature.” In 1979 a war between China and Vietnam broke out, and Lianke – who worked as a writer for the army – feared being drafted. This fear, which he also experienced in his comrades, made him question the stories of his country’s national literature: “At this moment, when you feel death is near, you will suddenly start to think that the cultural revolutionary literature that you’ve read is all a lie.” As a consequence his writing changed, and he started depicting people who like himself experienced unease. One of these novels (‘Xiariluo’) was banned and Lianke had to do one year of “self-criticism” (written or verbal statements detailing one’s ideological errors and affirming a renewed belief in the government line). This experience came to shape him as a writer: “Now I realised how real literature should be written.”

“If there are a lot of people who don’t like me it means that my whole being is of great value.” Writing stories like the ones Lianke wrote 30-35 years ago meant risking your life. Back then, the Chinese writing environment could, according to Lianke, be compared to the current writing environment in North Korea. Though there are indeed many great contemporary Chinese writers, Lianke feels that most Chinese literature – due to China’s meticulous censorship – lacks the profound criticism of people, society, the system and the authorities, which define the great masters such as Dostoyevsky.

Yan Lianke (b. 1958) is a Chinese author, who has written a vast number of novels and short story collections. Due to the subject matter of his stories, such as AIDS, sex, political abuse and suicide, some of his books have been banned in China. Among his most well known publications in the course of his 30-year writing career are ‘Enjoyment’ (2004) (also published as ‘Lenin’s Kisses’ in 2012), ‘Serve the People’ (2008) (first published in 2005), and ‘Dream of Ding Village’ (2011) (first published in 2005). Lianke is the recipient of prestigious national as well as international awards such as the Lu Xun Literary Prize in 2000, the Lao She Literary Award in 2004 and the Franz Kafka Prize in 2014. ‘Dream of Ding Village’ was furthermore shortlisted for the 2011 Man Asian Literary Prize and the 2012 Independent Foreign Fiction Award.

Yan Lianke was interviewed by Laura Dombernowski in connection to the Louisiana Literature festival at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark in August 2015.

Camera: Jakob Solbakken
Edited by: Klaus Elmer
Produced by: Marc-Christoph Wagner
Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2015

Supported by Nordea-fonden

  • Joyce Pensato

    Advice to the Young

    Homer, Mickey, Batman! Joyce Pensato – known for her unique work inspired by cartoon and comic book characters – here advises young artists to keep at it, love what they’re doing and, most importantly, “show your work, get it out there!”

  • Ulay

    Advice to the Young

    “If you want and need inspiration – go behind the central station.” The iconic artist – and self-proclaimed anarchist – Ulay here advises young artists to avoid art institutions and to make works that meet their own needs rather than that of the audience.

  • George Condo

    The Artist at Work

    The mind of American artist George Condo has been referred to as a place where “Picasso meets Looney Tunes.” Watch him at work in his New York-studio where he draws and paints his take on a 19th century painting by Manet.

  • Ulay

    Under My Skin

    This is the story of legendary artist Ulay, famous for his collaboration with Marina Abramović. As a solo artist in search for his identity, Ulay’s radical works have pushed the limits of photography and performance using his own body as material.

  • Olga Tokarczuk

    I Absorb Stories

    Olga Tokarczuk – one of the most important Polish writers of her generation – here shares how she draws inspiration from others: “People tell amazing micro-stories or even bigger stories. I seize them, absorb them and transform them in my books.”

  • Marina Abramović & Ulay

    A Living Door of the Museum

    Standing naked in the main entrance of a museum, facing each other while the audience passes sideways through the small space. Legendary performance artists Marina Abramović and Ulay share the story behind their poetic work ‘Imponderabilia’.

  • Bill Viola

    Cameras are Soul Keepers

    When video artist Bill Viola was 6 years old he fell into a lake, all the way to the bottom, to a place which seemed like paradise. "There's more than just the surface of life." Viola explains. "The real things are under the surface".

  • Wang Shu

    Architecture is a Job for God

    The Chinese architect Wang Shu’s buildings – a crossover between traditional Chinese culture and large-scale modern architecture – have earned him prestigious awards. “Democracy means a really diverse society,” says the architect in this inspiring interview.

  • Margrethe Odgaard

    Colour Diary of New York

    Becoming more aware of your surroundings can “open a new dimension inside as well as outside yourself.” Meet award-winning Danish designer Margrethe Odgaard who has trained herself to register the world through colours.

  • Nick Cave

    The World is my Skin

    Have you ever wished that you could put on a suit which would open up the imagination and take you to the world of your dreams? In this video artist Nick Cave presents his wearable sculptures, the 'Soundsuits', made from discarded everyday materials.

  • Gerhard Richter

    In Art We Find Beauty and Comfort

    “I don’t really believe art has power. But it does have value. Those who take an interest in it find solace in art. It gives them huge comfort.” Gerhard Richter, one of the greatest painters of our time, discusses beauty in the era of the internet.

  • Mika Rottenberg

    What is the Connection

    The exceptional video artist Mika Rottenberg here presents her intriguing video installation ‘Cosmic Generator.’ Set on the U.S.-Mexico border and in a huge Chinese market, the work explores the collapse – or reinforcement – of distance.