China can seem like a scary place, particularly for those of us who spend our time poring over the latest headlines. Some imagine an army of one billion bloodthirsty dragons plotting how to devour our way of life, hack our data, pollute our rivers, infect our children, steal our lunch money... and perhaps buy a luxury bag or two. But amid all the noise it is easy to forget that the country is full of wonderful (as well as wonderfully annoying) people. The Chinese are some of the kindest, most hospitable people I’ve ever met. The daily news might be factual but it only presents a part of the story – one perspective – and it shouldn’t be relied upon as our sole source of information on China (or any other country for that matter). During these shouty times, might I suggest a little more Chinese fiction?
What’s that you say? More made-up stories from China? Although it might sound like a strange antidote, fiction can also get to the truth. Consuming novels and films about other cultures has always helped us to understand that, wherever we live in the world, we are all going through the same ups and downs in life. Just try watching Better Days, a Chinese-Hong Kong co-production (pictured) that’s a hopeful for this year’s Oscars. It is a brilliant film about school bullying and exam stress set on the mainland. Or pick up the new issue of Monocle, which features a piece by the US journalist Te-Ping Chen about the rewards of writing fiction. She penned her upcoming book of short stories on life in modern China, Land of Big Numbers, while working as a correspondent for The Wall Street Journal in Beijing. “It’s a country of such rich human detail and surprises, many of which can be hard to capture in a news story,” she says. Fiction offered Chen respite as a writer covering China. Perhaps it can offer us overwrought readers something similar.